I love breading. I find the crispness of good breading can make otherwise mundane weeknight dishes a little elevated. A lightly breaded trout filet, a pork chop with a crispy side, a chicken breast with a little crunch.
The thing is, breading traditionally means dirty hands and dishes. In the most traditional sense, you would set up three dishes, one with flour, one with egg wash and one with breadcrumbs. You use one hand to move the food through, and the other hand stays clean.
The reason I so rarely go this traditional route is the PITA factor. You have to make the egg wash, and then you’ll inevitably end up wasting at least some of the flour and breadcrumbs since its all contaminated after you’re done and you can’t reuse it. Finally, there’s the extra dishes.
When I’m just cooking for myself and it’s a simple or fast meal, I can’t be bothered. I’ll occasionally flour something without breading it, which helps a little, but doesn’t impart much flavour, just texture.
I got to thinking about it and realised, the whole breading process doesn’t add much flavour either. Egg wash? Any flavour is in the breadcrumbs; the only thing the egg wash gives us is stickiness.
I do often paint my proteins with various sauces and concoctions. Mustard is one of my favourites — particularly a grainy, deeply flavoured mustard I ferment myself. I wondered if, as with mayo, the mustard itself could be the binder for breadcrumbs. I grabbed my crumb container from the freezer and tried it out on a pork chop. The crumb stuck with a light brushing of mustard, but would they stay on through the fry pan?
It was a shocking success, and I’ve since repeated it with all kinds of proteins from fish to scallops to chicken quarters and my favourite, a roast beef. It’s not just that the crumb sticks, its that the mustard itself imparts a bunch of flavour.
Lifehacker has previously mentioned how mayo could be used for this purpose, which led to a discussion about what other sauces might be a better binder for breading than an egg wash. Oyster sauce, duck sauce, ketchup, tomato sauce, and the most obvious: caesar dressing.
Silicone brushes are going to change your kitchen game here. They’re easy to keep clean, and allow you to use less sauce because you don’t lose any to the brush bristles. Choose a mustard you enjoy: Imagine pork tenderloin with a honey mustard, or a really grainy Poupon, or a spicy Chinese mustard on a slice of eggplant. Anoint one side of large scallops with a wine vinaigrette mustard. Paint it on — it doesn’t need to be thick, just get decent coverage.
Now sprinkle breadcrumbs onto the painted protein, and press them in. Sear the protein on the breaded side (you don’t have to bread all sides; I often do just one) in a fry pan on a medium high heat with some fat like oil or butter in the pan. Too high a temperature, and you’ll burn the breadcrumbs; on medium to medium-high heat, you can let the protein stay in the pan long enough to get a nice crisp crust from the breading before you flip it.
Then proceed as you would have with your recipe. You’ll find the crispiness and flavour from the mustard aren’t overpowering, just a nice hit of additional flavour and texture.
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