Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dr. Atkins' Nightmare - Pan Fried Breading

This little fried side dish/treat is about as far from diet friendly as you can get. It's a little treat my mom used to make using the leftover breading and egg whenever she made any breaded fried foods, such as chicken parmigiana. It's a big chunk of starch and egg, pan fried until golden brown. The very thought of it causes practitioners of the old, anti-carb Atkins diet to run screaming. The rest of us, just tuck in and enjoy the indulgence...

A typical Italian-style breading involves dunking the food in a wash of scrambled egg, then coating the food with seasoned breadcrumbs. Purists will make their own breadcrumb by taking stale, hard, Italian bread, and crumbling it into small granules, and toast them lightly under a broiler. Typical seasonings are things such as oregano, basil, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, or even garlic powder. Non-purists will use store bought breadcrumb, which is just as good (most of the time). People who insist on being more trendy may opt for Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) which have a great crunchy texture that I like. Panko, though, doesn't evoke those childhood memories of various breaded and fried foods like the old Italian style crumbs do.

Italian style breadcrumb isn't quite crunchy- it has a more even, grainy texture that develops a very attractive color when fried. It's a perfect choice for making "parmigiana" style dishes where you cover your fried food in tomato sauce and bake... the crumb adds it's developed flavors to the sauce, acts as a thickening agent, and becomes a less well defined boundary between sauce and food- almost creamy. That just doesn't happen with panko. You can fry in just about any oil, but there's something a little extra special if you use olive oil (like any good Sicilian guy should use!).

So after making your chicken, or eggplant parmigiana, you probably have some extra breadcrumbs, and scrambled egg. Rather than throw it out, mix the two together until you get a slurry somewhere between the consistency of cake batter and brownie batter- add a little more breadcrumb, or a little more water or egg if you need to, then spoon it into a hot pan with a moderate layer of olive oil, and form rough pancakes. For a little extra special flavor, do it right in the same pan and old oil you used to cook your chicken, eggplant, or whatever you just fried so it picks up a little of the flavor from the pan. Let it go until golden brown, flip, and do the same on the other side. Since we're dealing with raw egg, make sure you give them enough time to cook all the way through.

Take your breading cakes out of the pan, and set them on a few sheets of paper towel to drain off the excess oil, and  cool down to a non-mouth scalding temperature. You may choose to season them right after they come out of the pan, but they'll probably have enough seasoning already. When I was a kid, I'd get the extra breading as a treat for helping out in the kitchen (and by helping I really mean staying out of the way). It also works as a side dish in place of a starch such as a potato or a pile of rice. It has a somewhat meaty texture to it- so I would go so far as to call it a potential meat substitute (assuming you don't fry it in anything that touched meat!)- although a "fried breading burger" would probably be a starch overkill.

Overall, it's more of a texture thing than a flavor thing- but you will pick up interesting notes from the seasonings, the olive oil, and hints of whatever you fried in the pan before them. This is not for the faint of heart since it is basically a big block of fried carbohydrates, but it does make an interesting change of pace now and then, as long as you don't try to eat it every day.

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