When I was 13, I got a deep-fryer for my birthday. (It goes without saying that I was a strange and ridiculous 13-year-old with obliging parents.)
I primarily used it to cook samosas, made from Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking, the spine of which is split to that page, but there were also the occasional onion rings, doughnuts, and—just once—mozzarella sticks.
See, back then, I knew more about eating mozzarella sticks than I did about making them. Somehow, I'd missed the memo that the dredged cheese had to be thoroughly frozen before meeting the super-hot oil. (It goes without saying that I ended up with strands of melted cheese bobbing around in a vat of hot oil. And that no one ate mozzarella sticks that evening.)
But now, I've wised up! I've realized that...
a) you don't need a deep-fryer
for hardly anything as a home cook to make them, and
b) there are certain steps you can take to ensure success.
Don't be scared: These will be better than any you can find in the freezer aisle of your local grocery store (or at the pool or bowling alley or roller rink "Snack Shack"—which, I'd surmise, source from that same freezer aisle).
Stick with me here:
1. Cut the cheese (ha!).
Leave the the fresh, creamy, straight-from-the-cow mozzarella cheese for a good sandwich. To make mozzarella sticks, you're looking for a dry, squeaky mozzarella—the shiny, tacky kind that you might not be so enthusiastic to eat as is. Its low water content will make the cheese easier to dredge (see next step!) and will help it to fry up more nicely.
We started with a block of Polly-O and sliced it once in half through its height to make two thinner squares. We then cut each square into five sticks. Of course, you can make whatever shape you want. Mozzarella hexagons? Be my guest.
Pssst: You could even take string cheese and cut it in half once, lengthwise, or leave it just as it came (au naturale)—no knife work necessary.
Set up a dredging assembly line with three shallow bowls:
- Flour, seasoned with salt and pepper.
- A couple of eggs, beaten with a bit of milk or cream.
- A bowl of breadcrumbs (use panko, for extra crispiness; throw in some finely smashed cracker crumbs to go wild) mixed with dried herbs (like thyme, basil, oregano, and rosemary); whatever other seasonings you fancy (onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne, nutritional yeast, chile flakes); and, for even more cheesiness, grated Parmesan.
Move the sticks through the line—flour, eggs, breadcrumbs—and place them on a wire rack.
Don't skip this step! If your dredged cheese sticks are not frozen-through before hitting the hot oil, they will disintegrate. And you will cry. Moral of the story: Freeze them on the wire rack or on a baking sheet for at least one hour. (Or, freeze them until solid, then transfer to a zip-top bag and keep them in a freezer to fry within the next few days.)
While you wait, make a sauce to dip them in:
Pour canola oil into a wide, heavy-bottomed pot until it reaches a couple inches up the sides. Heat the oil to 350° F, then fry the mozzarella sticks in batches (so that you're not crowding the pan or dramatically lowering the temperature of the oil), until they're brown and crisp, flipping occasionally. Transfer to a wire rack, sprinkle with salt (and/or more finely-grated Parmesan) and allow to cool briefly.
5. Cheese pull.
Mozzarella sticks are best enjoyed hot, right from the fryer (and before the cheese has the opportunity to congeal and the breading to sog). But if some of your mozzarella sticks have gotten cold and firm, you can reheat them in the oven: Put them on a wire rack, so that the heat can circulate all around them, and bake at 300° F until warmed through and ready for action.
As long as you eat your mozzarella sticks while they're hot, you'll be able to get some glorious cheese-pulling action, no food styling trickery needed.
Where have you eaten the best mozzarella sticks? Tell us in the comments below.