Crumbs | From Panko to Bread to Beer Batter and Then some | A Lesson on Breading
To crumb or not to crumb, that is the question.... or is the question really how to crumb and what to crumb with?
Regardless I think we all agree in no uncertain terms that there is something delightful and satisfying about a crispy coating or crust to a nice piece of fish or meat no matter what you use to achieve it. The trick is the crispy part right?
So what to use; Store bought bread crumbs, fresh made bread crumbs, Panko, coconut, batter, nuts, seeds, spices, flour, egg, cornflour and of course a combination of several of these by which I mean and is commonly known as "to Pane" ie flour-eggwash-bread crumbs. Each have its own mild super power which frees you up to get that perfect coating whether you bake, broil or fry. So lets get started and break down this list of ingredients.
- Dried Bread Crumbs: By this I mean regular ol' bread crumbs, made at home from stale left over bread or store bought. Great for pane like schnitzel, parmigiana or home made chicken fingers and nuggets. Also used to sprinkle over the top of a bake to help with browning. Often used as a filler in meatloaf, burgers or to help soak up extra moisture. Not ideal for a nut crust or as versatile as you might like. They can be a little heavy and already on the dark side and sometimes the ingredients list from store bought can be a little questionable for crumbs of bread??? Be that as it may, they are there and ready to go in your pantry, so why not keep a little in the dry store on hand.
- Fresh home made bread crumbs: By this I mean fresh bread crumbs, crust removed and thrown in a food processor made on the day of use, not old bread, stale, baked, toasted or other wise dried. Using fresh bread for nut crusts gives a crispy exterior with a little soft fluffiness thrown in. You can still use for schnitzel and the like, but you will go through a tonne of the stuff and it browns quickly. You'll love this for delicate fish, herb and nut crusts. I usually fold in some sweated onions and a big knob of butter for such a crust. Fresh bread crumbs are great to use in combination with nuts and seeds as it provides protection, stopping them from burning and helping them stick.
- Panko: the awesome answer to regular store bought plain ole bread crumbs, when you want something light but with lots of crunch. Works everywhere, a must have for your pantry. Great for potato and vegetable gratins. Doesn't brown as quickly as you need for oven baked fish fillet, however mixed with a little soft butter will help. Panko is found in the Asian aisle of your everyday grocery store.
- Coconut: ok so it browns very quickly and burns just as fast, so its for small quick to cook items here only, that's why its always coconut shrimp on the menu. Mix with Panko for more crunch or fresh bread crumbs to slow the browning.
- Beer Batter & Tempura: an absolute horror to do at home, everything about this is messy, but for home made fish & chips or tempura it can be satisfyingly worth it. There is a bit of technique and trial and error to get your beer batter or tempura perfect. You must get your oil to the right temperature and pay attention to the technique in making your batter, the main rule being not to over work / over mix your batter. You are not making a pancake batter.
- Nuts-Seeds-Spices: think dukkah (not sure what dukkah is? Read about it here.) Nuts and seeds can be hard to make stick and stop from burning on larger cuts but are great for things like baked salmon, sesame crusted tuna or a finish touch to a rolled roast or vegetable bake. As mentioned earlier, I typically add nuts to panko or some fresh bread crumbs to help the nuts adhere to the meat or fish as well as provide a little protection so everything browns evenly.
- Flour: the simple things are often the best, squeeze of lemon salt and pepper and just flour is my preference for white fish. Fried lightly you will still get a lovely little crunch of a coating with out the bother.
- Egg: Never even crossed your mind did it. Still keeping it simple, throw in your favorite herbs, flour, dip in whisked egg and pan fry. You are obviously not going to get any crunch with this, but it is a great way to protect fish that needs keeping warm, with out it drying out. I learned this method while working in the Philippines when cooking for large groups.
- Cornstarch: When a super light coating is what you want a good dose of cornflour will protect food and be super crispy. Think a whole fried fish (yes head eye balls and all my lovelies), calamari and crispy duck. So full of starch, it sticks like a mother and can hold its crunch even when coated with a sauce... for a while at least. Think lemon butter calamari or crispy chili shrimp.
So let us rewind and go back to basics now. For traditional pane, flour, egg wash and bread crumb remember the month FEBruary.
Flour, Egg, Bread...see now you will never forget the order.