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This article is part of Change The Way You Cook part 2, the next installment in our series to help anyone (yes, you!) become smarter, faster, and more freewheeling in the kitchen.
The trademark of all good fried food? A big personality crunch. Crisp, craggy, golden brown, flecked with salt. This is the difference between, say, grilled and fried chicken: tons of textural contrast. But, the kind of fried chicken is where it gets interesting. Is it coated in flour or crumbs? And what kind of crumbs? Or dipped in a batter? And what kind of batter? Which is to say, it’s as much about the crust as it is about the chicken, as much about the outside as it is about the inside. But what's the path you take to get there? That's the fun part.
Maybe you start a with chicken thigh and roll it around in cracker crumbs. Or shred a potato and bind it with chickpea batter. But first, decide how deep your fry is. Add a film of oil to a high-sided, cast-iron skillet—just enough to cover the bottom of the pan by, say, 1/4 inch—and we’re talking pan-frying. Add more, enough to rise halfway up the food, and it’s shallow-frying. Add more, enough for the food to swim around in, and it’s deep-frying. Pan-frying is perfect for flat, whole ingredients, like pounded-out pork chops, dunked in buttermilk, dredged in cornmeal. Shallow-frying is ideal for free-form fritters and friends, like latkes. And deep-frying is just right for dipped and/or round ingredients, like tempura-fried broccoli. After you pick your ingredient, the only thing left to figure out is which crispy exterior is right for you.
Why we love it: Bubbly carbonated beer creates an especially light, airy batter. Plus, with only two ingredients (flour and beer), the recipe couldn't be easier. Make it your own from there. Add spices, like black pepper or cayenne, or spice blends, like za’atar or furikake.
Who wants in: Fish! (Did someone say fish and chips?) Try firm but flaky varieties like cod or tilapia, or shellfish, like shrimp. Beyond the sea, branch out with avocado wedges, asparagus spears, or mozzarella sticks.
How to play around: Try various types of beers and see which you like best. If you want to get really wild, try other bubbly alcohols, from hard cider to prosecco.
Why we love it: Tempura also capitalizes on carbonation—except here, it’s just bubbly water. This Japanese batter is distinctly thin, yielding a shattering, airy, lacy coating.
Who wants in: Shrimp and their heads, eel and squid, plus any vegetables are traditional. But we like this method so much, we’re using it for just about anything.
How to play around: Substitute a fraction—no more than a quarter—of the all-purpose flour for a nutty, whole-grain variety like buckwheat, rye, or spelt. Add ground spices, like white pepper, or blends, like five-spice, or even seeds like sesame.
Why we love it: A thick chickpea batter made from chickpea—or gram—flour renders a crunchy crust and chewy interior. Usually, this batter binds together sliced or shredded vegetables, which are deep-fried into irregular, bite-sized, confetti-shaped nuggets.
Who wants in: This batter is good for more than just shredded vegetable fritters. Instead of slicing onions into shards, for instance, you could cut them into thick circles for an upgraded onion ring. And don’t forget the creamy dips for dunking, like raita.
How to play around: For a meta-pakora, drain a can of chickpeas, slightly mash the beans with a fork, then scoop this mixture, by heaping tablespoons, into the batter, and fry.
Why we love it: This misleading (but cute) name refers to the wet-dry breading method, most iconically used for—can you guess?—fried chicken. Its signature is a bold crust with lots of nooks and crannies. A buttermilk soak lends tanginess, while seasoned flour (think garlic, paprika, cayenne) brings some spunk.
Who wants in: Deep-fried chicken parts are classic. But flatter alternatives are perfect for shallow-frying. Try chicken-fried steak or cauliflower steak. Even chilled, sliced squares of mac and cheese.
How to play around: Go classic southern and overnight-soak in salted, hot sauced buttermilk, drain the next day, then shake, shake, shake in a bag of seasoned flour. Or, speed up the process with a quick dunk. For a cakier breading, add eggs to the buttermilk. For more lift, add baking powder to the flour.
Why we love it: Just like chicken-fried—with an extra step. Instead of going from liquid to flour, you go from flour to liquid to crumbs. Pregaming the liquid with flour primes the ingredient for its luxurious bath. Ending with a coarse mixture, from breadcrumbs to crushed crackers, creates an irregular, craggy exterior.
Who wants in: The best chicken fingers; crispy-fried french toast.
How to play around: All-purpose flour is ideal, but feel free to play around with the other two—and season all steps with salt! Some liquid options: whole milk, buttermilk, even kefir; eggs; maybe seasoned with something tangy-spicy, like dijon or hot sauce. Some crumb options: breadcrumbs; panko; saltines; Ritz; bonus points for ground spices, like black pepper, and grated cheese, like parmesan.
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- 3/4 cup half-and-half (or cream or milk or any combination of the two)
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon bourbon
- Pinch kosher salt
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs, plus more as needed
- Couple giant spoonfuls honey
- Louisiana-style hot sauce (no spices!), to taste
- Five 1-inch-thick slices challah
- Unsalted butter, for frying
What’s your go-to frying technique? Tell us about it in the comments below!