Coating food with crumbs or meal before frying or baking seals in natural juices and creates a crispy crust. Chicken, pork, seafood and vegetables are the most commonly breaded items, but fruit, cheese, tofu and even ice cream have gotten this treatment. There’s a wide variety of value-added products manufactured with commercial coating systems, including appetizers like jalapeño poppers, coconut fried shrimp and spicy breaded chicken tenders. But if you’re starting from scratch, here’s a guide to purchasing basic breadings.
Bread crumbs are the most prevalent coating. Soft or fresh crumbs are made by pulsing bread in a food processor or blender. Dry bread crumbs can be purchased plain or
seasoned in a range of textures and flavors. Also known as American bread crumbs, those that are produced commercially are often processed from a whole loaf of bread—crust and all—for a homemade appearance. Coloring and browning agents may also be present.
Panko or Japanese bread crumbs are newer on the foodservice scene. These are more jagged, coarse and airy in appearance, producing a lighter, crispier coating that retains its crunch longer. When used to coat foods for frying, panko is said to absorb less oil than American bread crumbs. These fluffy Japanese-style crumbs are available both toasted and untoasted.
Cracker meal is just what it sounds like—crackers, usually saltines, crushed to fine crumbs. McCormick manufactures a fry mix with a base of seasoned cracker meal.
Cornmeal is ground from dried corn kernels to a fine, medium or coarse texture. Southern-style preparations, like fried catfish or fried okra, are often dredged in cornmeal. Yellow is the most prevalent color, but white and blue cornmeal are also available.
Coating mixes are another way to bread a piece of food. These come in several formats; one of the newest is Kikkoman’s Kara-Age Soy-Ginger Seasoned Coating Mix. Technically, kara-age is the Japanese cooking technique of marinating, flour dusting and deep-frying ingredients to yield a lighter coating than tempura or traditional fried chicken. The mix brings together all these elements and is ready to use just by adding water. The result is chicken or fish with a delicately crunchy, flavorful exterior.
Most restaurants have access to other coating possibilities already in stock. Nuts, cereal flakes, potato or corn chips, sesame seeds, cracked wheat and shredded coconut can all add textural and flavor interest—combined with bread crumbs or not—to fried or baked foods.