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The common term given to the technique of coating food in a coarse crumble of starch prior to cooking is "breading". It adds several dimensions of taste to the food, with perhaps the most important being a crunchy texture. Dry, day-old bread that has been pulverized into fine crumbs may be the most common, but the choice of starch for the coating is nearly boundless. It’s often best guided by the main food choice and the method, as well as the process, of cooking.
Breaded food can be cooked in many ways, their common denominators being the presence of fat and high temperature. Pan-frying in butter to give something a more substantial crust than a simple dusting of flour can give is popular. A deep dish pan of something like a casserole, topped with a layer of bread crumbs and a drizzle of olive oil, will emerge from an oven appetizingly golden brown. The cooking most closely associated with breading, however, is deep-frying. In all these methods, another commonality is that the coating is relatively dry, not a wet liquid that would otherwise be termed a batter.
The choice of food to be breaded is also nearly boundless. For deep-frying, a bite-sized food such as small shrimp or mushrooms will become fully encased in a crunchy shell. The same outer texture combines well with contrasting soft foods, such as fillets of fish or slices of eggplant.
Breading is sometimes called crumbing, as almost any starch product reduced to crumbs can be used for the food coating. The classic is dry, stale, leftover bread ground very finely in an appliance. It is often mixed with dry or powdered herbs and spices. Other starches similarly treated include breakfast cereals and soda crackers. More imaginative options are crispy cookies or potato chip snacks.
The popularity of this cooking technique is evident in many prepared mixes sold in markets. There may be boxes of very spicy cornmeal, or bags of honey-infused panko. The latter is a very highly regarded breading product, shaped as small, sharp flakes. Translated “bread flour” in Japanese, it absorbs less oil than other alternatives, resulting in a light and crunchy crust that remains crisp even when the cooked food cools.
Professional chefs are taught this cooking technique as simply “SBP,” or standard breading procedure. The food to be cooked is first dusted with a thin layer of simple wheat flour. It is then dipped in a beaten egg, sometimes mixed with milk into a “wash.” Finally, it is “dredged” in the breading. Experienced cooks recommend one last step, which is to allow this breaded food to “rest” in the refrigerator for one hour before cooking.
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