Pan-fried foods embody appealing qualities―crisp coatings, browned surfaces, and tender interiors. Think of the satisfying texture and taste of breaded chicken cutlets or browned potato latkes. This technique involves less oil than deep-frying, so it’s less messy and more spatter-proof. It’s easy to master once you learn a few tips.
This method entails cooking food in an uncovered pan in a moderate amount of fat. It’s similar to sautéing but requires more fat and often lower temperatures.
Use a skillet or sauté pan―wide, with sloped or straight sides. Choose a heavy-bottomed pan for evenly distributed heat with no hot spots. We prefer nonstick skillets to help ensure the coatings stay on the food, not stuck in the pan. These pans also allow you to use less oil than traditional pan-fried recipes.
Many pan-fried dishes benefit from a coating of flour, breadcrumbs, cracker meal, or cornmeal. These coatings help both to create the desired crisp crust and insulate the food to prevent it from overcooking. Place each of the coating ingredients in a separate shallow dish, such as a pie plate, so there’s enough room for the food to lie flat.
Most of our breaded recipes use a three-step approach: The food is first dusted in flour to help all the other coatings cling, then dipped into an egg wash to help the main coating adhere, and finally dredged in the main/heavier coating of panko or breadcrumbs, for example. You’ll find it helpful to designate one hand as the dry hand (for handling the food as it goes into the dry ingredients) and the other as the wet hand (for dipping food into the egg wash). If you use the same hand or both hands for every step, you’ll end up with a mess of flour-egg-breadcrumbs stuck to your skin. Don’t let the food sit too long after it’s breaded or it may become gummy.
Best bets for pan-frying
Fish fillets; thin, tender cuts such as pork chops or boneless, skinless chicken breast halves; and sturdy vegetables such as potatoes, green tomato slices, and onions are good choices. Juicy foods such as ripe tomatoes will be rendered mushy, and tougher cuts like brisket or pork shoulder won’t cook long enough to become tender.