The Art of Crunchy Food

9 loud recipes for those times when you just crave crunch.

Crunchy Foods

Crunch!

Fight your way down the snack aisle of any American supermarket and the obsession with crunch is manifest—in fact, it's a global obsession. The ratios of sugar, salt, and fat may vary, but crunch prevails. One theory about the ascendancy of crunch concerns evolution. Crispy-crunchy texture often signals freshness in fruits and vegetables, and, one supposes, in bugs. But the obvious fact is this: Crunch rings a gong in our brains very near to our deepest food-pleasure centers. We all crave crunch. The conundrum was this: Could we make favorite crunchy foods healthier, with less fat and sugar?

Crunch-O-Meter

Crunch-O-Meter

We started out by devising a crunch-o-meter against which to measure our foods, then got cooking. It was crunch time in our Test Kitchen. We had a little fun putting our list of crunchiest foods to the test. The somewhat surprising results appear in the diagram to the left. The crunchiest of the crunchy was hard candies such as peppermints (9).

9. Toffee, Jolly Ranchers, Starlight peppermints
8. Corn Nuts!
7. Wasabi peas, the hard edges of melba toast, Grape Nuts cereal, thick hard pretzels
6. Carrots, celery, bell peppers
5. Toasted whole almonds, Stacy's pita chips
4. Superfresh radishes, the crunchiest pickles
3. Biscotti (except the hard-as-concrete kind), Captain Crunch, Kettle chips
2. Water crackers and thin tortilla chips, such as Xochitl brand
1. Graham crackers

Tell us how you like to get your crunch on: Vote at Facebook.com/CookingLight

Seared Salmon with Wilted Spinach

Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi

Seared Salmon with Wilted Spinach

Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 2

Salmon skin cooks to a remarkably crisp exterior that's contrasted by buttery flesh beneath.

View Recipe: Seared Salmon with Wilted Spinach  

Crispy Pork Spring Rolls

Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi

Crispy Pork Spring Rolls

Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 3

No surprise, deep-frying is one of the best mediums for creating crunchy texture. It may seem off-limits in the pursuit of healthy crunch, but it's not. (For more on our techniques for healthy frying, check out our step-by-step Healthy Frying tutorial.) Spring roll wrappers are thin rice sheets that become shatteringly crisp when cooked, and heating the oil to the proper temperature discourages excess oil absorption—critical for flavor, texture, and calories.

View Recipe: Crispy Pork Spring Rolls

Pan-Fried Shrimp

Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi

Pan-Fried Shrimp

Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 3.5

Kenji Lopez-Alt, chief creative officer and author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science at SeriousEats.com, explains the trick to these crunchy shrimp. To bring crunch to battered food, Lopez offers a scientific rationale for adding booze to the batter. Vodka or beer evaporates quickly as food cooks (due to the alcohol), leaving it supercrisp. For a more crunchy mouthfeel, we created a rough panko coating for shrimp, with lots of nooks and crannies.

View Recipe: Pan-Fried Shrimp

Tah Dig (Persian Rice)

Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi

Tah Dig (Persian Rice)

Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 4

Many rice cultures have crunchy-rice dishes. In the Korean dish bibimbap, rice develops a treasured crust in a hot stone bowl. In Persian cooking, partially cooked rice is drained and cooked in a dry pan with butter and oil, forming a gorgeous, golden crust.

View Recipe: Tah Dig (Persian Rice)

Sugar-Crusted Pork Cabbage Wraps

Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi

Sugar-Crusted Pork Cabbage Wraps

Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 6

Roasted pork tenderloin is shredded and pan-fried to produce crisp bits on the outside. Tuck these pork nuggets into cabbage leaves, and top with lots of sliced green onions and cucumber to heighten the overall crunchy experience.

View Recipe: Sugar-Crusted Pork Cabbage Wraps

Celery Apple Salad

Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi

Celery Apple Salad

Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 6.5

Here, crunch derives from ingredients rather than technique. Apples get the noise going, while celery, one of the loudest vegetables on earth, makes this a fresh festival of crunchy goodness.

View Recipe: Celery Apple Salad  

Cracker-Crust Mushroom Pizza

Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi

Cracker-Crust Mushroom Pizza

Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 7

We set out to maximize the crunch with a crust that basically shatters, deliciously. A small amount of yeast, a thin roll of the dough, and high-heat cooking nailed it. Minimalist toppings prevent sogging, but the center of the pizza still softens to the 3 to 4 range on the crunch-o-meter.

View Recipe: Cracker-Crust Mushroom Pizza

Crunchy Chickpeas

Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi

Crunchy Chickpeas

Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 8

Low and slow is the key to drawing out all of the moisture without burning the chickpeas or seasoning. As they cook, the spices mingle and mellow for a rounded flavor.

View Recipe: Crunchy Chickpeas

Chocolate-Almond Toffee

Chocolate-Almond Toffee

Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 9

Cooking sugar above 300° ensures it'll harden as it cools. For crisp toffee, spread it thin; for crunch, go thick.

View Recipe: Chocolate-Almond Toffee

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