August 13, 2018

How breading makes or breaks a meal

Many a great dish can be ruined by using the wrong type of breading, or not properly preparing the batter that holds other ingredients in place. Whether you’re frying a filet, baking a savory casserole or prepping a sweet dessert, here are a few bits of breading wisdom to keep your cuisine crumbly but not crummy, courtesy of the experts at our Boulder campus.

Breading with a purpose

A proper breading typically consists of three layers:

  1. A dry base layer such as a flour that is applied directly to the food. This helps the second layer stick. But be warned: too much flour will cause the next layer to run off, so be sure to shake off any excess.
  2. A wet layer of batter, usually made from an egg or dairy product, that keeps the third layer in place.
  3. A grainy product such as bread crumbs, cereal, nuts, crackers, cornmeal, etc.

Now we arrive at an exciting question: Why use breading? Firstly, there’s the elements of taste and texture. Seasoned breading on a chicken or pork cutlet, for instance, helps encrust the meat in more flavor. It also adds a bit of texture. Likewise, finely crumbled crackers over a macaroni-and-cheese casserole adds some much-needed crunch to an otherwise mushy meal.

But breading isn’t only about pleasing your taste buds. It also has a very practical purpose when preparing certain dishes, such as fried chicken, fried eggplant, cauliflower hot wings and fish filets. That purpose is to insulate the food underneath to prevent it from direct exposure to heat and oils. Accordingly, your meats or vegetables will cook more evenly. Breading also helps keep too much water from evaporating when the food hits the fryer. Breading can make the difference between a succulent chicken cutlet and a dry, rubbery slab of meat.

Breading over a well-mixed batter is a crumbly complement to many fried and baked dishes.Breading over a well-mixed batter is a crumbly complement to many fried and baked dishes.

Different types of breading and when to use which

And now for the best part. Breading comes in all different textures and flavor profiles, and there’s plenty of room to experiment. But some of the most commonly used types of breading are:

  • Bread crumbs: Bread crumbs can be made from a variety of different types of bread, including whole grain. They can also be seasoned with herbs and spices. A good Italian-style bread crumb, for example, goes great on a chicken parmigiana.
  • Panko breading: Made from white bread without any crust, panko breading is light but crispy. It can be used as a substitute for other forms of breadcrumbs for more crunch. It goes wonderfully with fried proteins (like shrimp) and vegetables.
  • Cracker breading: Exactly what it sounds like. Cracker breading is the perfect complement for a baked cod, chicken or vegetable casserole, mashed potatoes and of course, macaroni and cheese. You can use different types of cracker breading (e.g., oyster crackers, Ritz crackers and so on) depending on the type of flavor you’re going for.
  • Cornmeal and cereal breading: While not the ideal choice for a delicate fish filet, thin-sliced eggplant or a slim chicken cutlet, cornmeal is great for a hearty fried chicken, as it provides a much firmer coat. If you want to get creative and have a strong hankering for something extra crispy, go with cornflakes instead.
  • Nut and seed breading: Everything from almonds to pecans, chickpeas or pine nuts can be added to your breading. Nuts are especially excellent for sweeter fried foods.

You certainly aren’t bound to the choices above, but they’re great starting points. Once you master these, feel free to get creative and leave your own unique culinary signature on your breading.