The Case of Insufficient Breading


And other recipe pet peeves because, hey, why not?

So I posted our menu for last week including the recipe links where available and, first, I’d like to pat myself on the back for not bailing on any of them. Wohoo!

But it didn’t start out all that great when the first recipe, the Orange Chicken, had me mixing up a second batch of both breading components in the middle of prep (and even then that wasn’t quite enough to get all the chicken coated, but by that point I was ready to move on!).

Now, this is not the first time I’ve come across this issue with recipes and I think I know why it pops up so often:

  1. Excess breading ingredients are pure waste: due to food safety issues you cannot use the flour, cornmeal, or breadcrumbs that you just dipped your raw meat or fish into for anything else. The excess has to be tossed.
  2. Nutritional data trumps practicality: a simple nutritional analysis of a recipe is the sum of its parts and does not take into consideration the excess flour and milk that may get tossed in the bin instead the pan. And it’s too much work for most recipe writers to backtrack and manually adjust the nutritional data based on what is reasonably consumed.

So, while it might be possible to coat 2 pounds of chicken breasts (or thighs, in my case) with 3/4 cup of flour and cornstarch combined, but once you chop up the meat the surface area increases exponentially and you wind up, like I did, grabbing more of both the wet and dry items while juggling a hot wok.

In comparison to the Mongolian Beef later in the week which required dredging the beef in cornstarch, while the components were similar in weight and volume, the fact that you were only tossing the beef around with the starch in a bag means that it’s going to spread farther. When you’re doing a 2 or 3-step breading, you lose a certain amount of each component as it reacts with the former, either sinking to the bottom of the bowl for the wet steps or clumping (usually around your fingers) for the dry.

I doubt recipe writers are going to change, so all I can caution you to do is mix up more breading materials than the recipe calls for. Yes, it’s a bit wasteful, but flour and such is usually pretty cheap, so it’s not the end of the world. Plus, breaded items are more of a treat sort of meal, not an everyday occurrence, right?

Also, for the love of flavor, season each component in your breading steps! Don’t overdo it on the salt or anything, a couple of pinches is usually enough, but by all means season the flour mixes: the one closest to the meat will help flavor the meat, the ones on the outer layer will be what hits your tongue first. Do you want to just taste blah flour? I didn’t think so.

Amusingly enough, the Orange Chicken was an exception to my hokey-pokey chicken peeve. (Which I’ve complained about several times.) In this case it really does make sense to cooking the chicken in batches and set them aside because you certainly wouldn’t want the sediment that collects in the bottom of the wok from the frying to mix in with your sauce. Of course, the reason why this exception works is that the process is fairly fast on all steps: quickly fry the batches of chicken, dump out the frying oil and any residue/sediment (and not down the sink–I don’t have to tell y’all why, right?), cook the sauce ingredients and add the chicken back in. Once the chicken is in the sauce you can, if need be, lower the temp to keep things warm while the rice or what have you finishes up.

Other recipe pet peeves?

Oh, things like missing ingredients or missing directions are easy to get peeved at. While I always caution everyone (including myself) to read the entire recipe before starting prep, I’ve been known to skim through the directions only to see it calls for adding extra water or whatnot along the line that I have to scramble for instead of having it pre-measured and ready to go. Worse is when there’s an ingredient listed and they never tell you what to do with it!

In theory, if the mystery item is between other things that are all added together you can be pretty sure that Item X goes in, then, too. Of course, if the recipe write hits another of my hot-buttons and does NOT list ingredients in the order they are used, well, then, you’ll just have to wing it! Some folks take the tack of listing ingredients largest to smallest by weight or volume. Nope, folks, that’s great for food packaging but not so good for recipes!

Of course, as a cookbook author, I’ve done some of these myself (mostly by accident: no matter how many times you proofread something there will still be errors) but I try to avoid them as much as possible. I also try not to get too peeved when others do it, which is why I don’t rant about it all that often. But some days…

Do you have any recipe pet peeves of your own?