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.