Time-tested and used for generations, there is a basic, three-step approach to breading your food in order to get it ready to pan-fry. Make sure you have three nice sized dishes to use so the food can get coated easily and have room to move around.
What’s the secret to the earth-shattering crispy crust on food? The standard breading procedure, and it’s simple to do! The initial dip in flour helps the egg wash stick better to the food’s surface.
A little bit of oil in the egg wash helps thin the liquid coating, and the extra fat browns the breadcrumbs better underneath. The proteins in the flour and eggs help the bread crumbs stick to the food once cooked and hardens for additional texture. A distinct and attractive crunchy crust is formed around the food once pan-fried.
Since it can get a little messy, it may be helpful to keep one hand as your “dry” hand (while dredging the food in the dry ingredients) and the other as the “wet” hand (while dipping food into the egg wash). If you use both hands for every step, you’ll end up with a coating of flour-egg-breadcrumbs all over your skin. Also, don’t let the food sit too long after it’s breaded or it may become soft and gummy.
The standard breading procedure
- Flour: The food is first dusted in flour, shaking off any excess. The flour helps to wick up any additional moisture from the food. It acts as a primer to help all the other coatings cling to the food. The hydrated starches in the flour create a gel, giving the beaten egg something to stick to.
- Egg Wash: Next, it is dipped into a beaten egg wash. This helps the main coating stick to the food at the final step. The egg is necessary because it acts as a sticky glue to attach all of the breadcrumbs to the surface of the food. When the egg proteins cook and solidify, the breadcrumbs are secured onto the food.
- Breading: Finally, it’s dredged in the main coating. This can include breadcrumbs, panko, nuts, or cornmeal. The shape and size of the breading will determine how fast it will brown and the texture of the crust. Breadcrumbs act as an insulator to prevent the fish from drying out.
Step #1: Flour
Step #2: Egg wash
Step #3: Breading
How much breading to use
When you get a recipe like chicken parmesan breaded up for pan-frying, you’ll likely have to use more breading, egg, and flour that will actually stick to the food, and you should discard what’s leftover. Having more than you need makes it easier to properly coat the food. For an extra thick breading, dip the food in egg and then breadcrumbs one more time.
Popular coatings for breading
- Nuts: finely ground hazelnuts, almonds, or pecans can work for your final coating step, but watch these closely as nuts can burn quickly.
- Gluten-free options: Feel free to use your favorite gluten-free breading mix, or use pulverized rice cakes or crispy rice cereal. It works!
- Panko: Panko is a flaky type of bread crumb used in Japanese cuisine as a crunchy coating for fried foods, such as tonkatsu. It’s almost fluffy in texture but makes for extra crispy pan-frying.
- Bread crumbs: Do yourself a favor and make your own, drying out any stale bread and running it through the blender when it’s dried out. Then you can store the crumbs in a resealable bag in the freezer to keep them fresh.
- Eggs: Beaten eggs act as an effective binder for the three-step process of breading.
- Buttermilk: Buttermilk is often used in place of a beaten egg as the second stage of breading.
- Parmesan cheese: Grated parmesan cheese can be added to any breading for an extra umami kick. Watch the oil temperature as it can burn quickly.
- Flour: The most common initial coating or used as stand-alone for dishes like fried chicken or chicken piccata.
- Cornmeal: A true Southern way to bread food, cornmeal has a nutty, sweet flavor that is perfect for fried green tomatoes.
- Corn flakes: Pulverized, plain old corn flakes can do wonders for a fun chicken dinner that’s anything but boring.
- Cornstarch: If you want your fish or chicken to have very crisp, crunchy skin, a light dusting of cornstarch is recommended. Flour gives a more tough and crunchy crust due to gluten-formation.
- Rice flour: Often used in Japanese dishes for a light and crispy coating due to its lack of gluten.
- Tempura: More of a batter than a breading, tempura batter is easily made by combining 2 beaten egg whites with 1 cup flour and 2/3 cup cold water. Dust food in cornstarch then dip them in the batter and fry up.
- Dairy and egg-free binders: For a bolder taste, Dijon mustard can act as an egg and dairy-free binder, but if you’re just looking to avoid eggs, heavy cream works wonders, too.
13 Comments Leave a comment or review
Nice. I came across a source that advised allowing the flour-egg wash coating to ‘rest’ for about 15 minutes or so before frying. It really worked…it stuck!
Thanks for posting.
Nice to emphasize the basics! I typically use an egg white only wash. Does a whole egg wash work better or is it just personal preference?
Jessica Gavin says
Hi Steven- I think the most important thing is to have the sticky proteins present to help with binding, which is most abundant in the white. So you can definitely just use the white. I like to use the whole egg because the fat in the yolk adds a little bit of moisture, and helps to fry from the inside of the breading in addition to the frying happening on the outside. I also like the taste of the whole eggs.
Steven Godfrey says
Thanks Jessica, makes sense.
Keep up the great work, really love reading your blog and trying new recipes!
Julie Ho says
Why does the breading slide off my chicken for chicken Parmesan ?
Jessica Gavin says
Before or after cooking? If before cooking, then you might need to dip the chicken in flour first to create a sticky surface for the egg and crumbs to stick to.
Suzanne K says
After I rinse and dry chicken bone in, can I coat with Italian bread crumbs then dip in 2 egg and coat with panko bread crumbs I am frying a whole chicken cut into pieces and how long . I know Not to crowd chicken pieces.
Jessica Gavin says
Yes, you can use two types of breadcrumbs for coating. I fry between 320 to 340-degrees, this allows the chicken to cook through and gently create a golden brown surface. Timing is dependent on the piece, make sure the meat reaches around 165-degrees. Check out my fried chicken recipe for more details on cook time for each cut.
Sarabjit Sabharwal says
For wet breading do fry before freezing or freeze without frying
Jessica Gavin says
Can you explain more what you mean about wet breading?
Tom S. says
I’m new to frying, I’m still trying to get the coating right on my efforts, it clumps up and leaves bare uncoated spots. But how do you maintain the oil temperature? I used a sauce pan with oil & the electric stove heated it up crazy fast, higher than 500+ using my thermometer and the oil was smoking. I let it cool back down, got it somewhere close to 350, then the temp dropped 100 degrees when I added the marinated pork. Does that just happen or is it solely because the pork was cold after marinating overnight in the fridge. Thanks.
Jessica Gavin says
The meat will definitely drop down the oil temperature. It’s definitely something you have to keep an eye on and adjust the heat as needed.
I find that when I use eggs on fritters, the fritters turn soft when cool. If I used egg whites only, will I have the same result? How do I keep my gritty crispy even when it is cool?