The Secret to Perfect (Faux) Frying

By Chef Meg Galvin, Healthy Cooking Expert at SparkPeople.com

You might not find discussions of pan frying or deep fat frying in most cookbooks geared to healthy cooking for obvious reasons. I guess that means that if we want to live a healthy lifestyle we will no longer enjoy the golden breading color on pieces of cooked Dover sole or the crunch we hear when we bite into a chicken leg coated in a crispy breading. Guess again! If you've said goodbye to those crispy cooked foods--say hello again! Faux frying creates a lighter version of the pan- or deep-fried foods that we all crave. It's simple, quick, and easy. Best of all, your home (and your hair) won't smell of a deep fat fryer for days after the meal.

First you need to understand the basic breading procedure that produces the golden brown crispy crust on fried or faux fried foods. You can fry almost anything, from chicken to pickles, zucchini to shrimp. The first step is to make sure your vegetable or protein is completely thawed and patted dry. Then comes a three-part breading process: dry, wet and dry again, which ensures a moist interior and crispy exterior.

Preheat the oven before you start--this is not a do-ahead or take-your-time project.

Coating food in a thin layer of flour will provide a protective barrier and keep the crust from getting soggy. Swap out white flour for whole wheat flour, or use oat or quinoa flour for a gluten-free breading, then layer in flavor with added seasonings such as paprika, black pepper, or dried herbs. Dip your to-be-fried food into the flour mixture to coat evenly, then shake off the excess.

Next comes the wet layer. You can use whole eggs, egg whites, or even a thin coat of yogurt. (Though you can season this layer, too, it isn't necessary.) Work quickly. Just dip the food in and out of the wet mixture--don't let it soak--then shake off any excess.

The last step before the heat arrives is the crumb crust. Cover the item to be breaded with the crumbs or corn meal (which is gluten-free), pressing lightly to make sure they are evenly coated. Shake off the excess.

Get creative with the crust: Panko (Japanese bread crumbs), crumbled wheat bran, or crushed whole wheat crackers work great; so do corn meal and crushed rice cereal. Be sure to add in some flavor: citrus zest and shredded hard cheese like Parmesan, in addition to dried herbs and spices, make tasty additions.

Don't let your food sit around--cook it immediately. Once breaded, food can become soggy quickly. The key to avoiding a sticky gooey mess is to use one hand for the liquid ingredients and the other hand for dry ingredients.

To mimic deep frying and achieve all-around color and texture, follow these easy steps.

  • Cook the breaded item on a cooling rack. The rack will expose the underside of the breaded item in the oven so the bottom does not get soggy.
  • Preheat oven to 375-425 degrees depending on the item breaded. The goal is to get the crumb crust brown while at the same time cooking the food to an appropriate temperature. Thin strips of vegetables can take a higher heat and less cooking time while a chicken leg requires a lower heat and long cooking time.
  • Try a two-step process of sautéing the breaded item first in a nonstick pan coated with cooking spray to get the crumbs crunchy then finish in the oven to cook the inside.
  • Give the breaded item a mist of cooking spray right before it goes in the oven or on the stove top to help along the browning of the crumbs.
Safety note: Due to its potentially hazardous ingredients such as eggs and the cross contamination with proteins, breading needs to be treated with care. Make only small batches of breading and discard any left after use. Use a separate breading station for vegetables and meats or just make sure you bread the vegetables first.

What's your favorite food to faux fry? Is there one that you've been dying to make over?

Related links:
3 Super-Duper Turkey Burgers
9 Meatloaf Makeovers
7 Nights of (Fit) French Food

SparkPeople Healthy Cooking Expert Meg Galvin is a World Master Chef, culinary instructor, and the author of " The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A farmer's daughter and marathon runner, she lives in northern Kentucky with her husband and three teenage sons.