When Julia Child shocked America in 1973 by confessing her liking for McDonald's french fries to Time magazine, she joined ranks with Thomas Jefferson. Both had a penchant for culinary revolution. In 1802, President Jefferson hosted a White House dinner at which french fries were served, and John Adams accused him of "putting on airs by serving such novelties."
If indulging in fries is putting on airs, we're one arrogant culture. Americans consume more than 4.5 billion pounds of french fries each year, according to Ore-Ida. And our love of things fried only begins with Julia's indulgence. Dunkin' Donuts claims it sells enough doughnuts annually to circle the world twice. The average American eats potato chips more than once a week, reports the trade journal Spudman. And anyone with kids knows the siren call of fried chicken nuggets.
The popularity of fried food has much to do with its texture. The crisp exterior, contrasted with the moist, tender interior, is a large part of the appeal. But how can we reconcile what we want with what we ought to have? Is there a way to duplicate what we love about fried food without its hefty nutritional price tag?
After much experimentation, I've found that creating crisp, crunchy faux-fried food in the oven is possible and comes down to three simple techniques:
Breading, breading, breading
With the exception of french fries, most foods are well served by a double dip-sometimes even a triple dip-in flour or some other breading to create a substantial crunchy coating. For instance, our Oven-Fried Chicken is dipped in buttermilk, then dusted with flour, then sprayed with cooking spray, then dusted with flour again. Our Coconut Shrimp are dipped in cornstarch, then egg white, then rolled in flaked coconut.
Give the food a shot of cooking spray after breading it, just before it goes in the oven. This helps brown and crisp the surface.
Heat it up
The higher the heat, the browner and crispier the coating will get. All these recipes bake in at least 400-degree ovens.
Now you can have the crisp, the crunch, the chewy satisfaction of fried food-and guilt-free pleasure as well.