Frying is essentially a drying process. While the batter and breading that go on top of the food are supposed to gracefully dry out, the food inside must ideally do the opposite - cook slowly, whilst staying most.
The key is in getting this balance right. So overcooking the batter on top of your fried foods is a strict no-no and so is getting it leathery - essentially making the fry lose out on a crucial quality - crunch. A light airy batter can get the crispy and foamy elements right, which essentially translate into a good crunch.
Breadings, that form a textural contrast on top of the food, give a crunchy dimension to the fry.
Batters - usually comprise of wheat flour, corn starch, rice flour usually combined with a binding agent such as eggs or baking powder. Batters, essentially coat the fry in a thick, non-penetrating layer. Breedings are usually 2-3 layers on top of the food - the initial layer coating the food in some kind of flour to make the fry dry and firm, followed by a second layer of liquid that’ll adhere to the initial layer of flour. The third layer is a thickening agent to hold all the layers firmly together - usually beaten eggs or milk. The last and final layer is a textural element - crushed nuts, breadcrumbs, cornflakes or crackers.
Here’s Top 5 Breading and Batters to Get Right the Next Time Around:
Brined or soaked (in buttermilk) pieces of food are coated in seasoned flour and fried. The breading gives a crunchy, dark brown texture when done right. However, on the downside, it could end up breaking down oil and the breading can get your hands dirty.
Popular Usage: Southern-style fried chicken, chicken-fried steak
Bread Crumb Breading
Flour, followed by beaten eggs and dried breadcrumbs is the classic breading that goes on top of a fry. Ideally, have these laid out neatly in two-three pans on the side. This is a pretty easy act to get right. The lows for this one is that the flavour on the breadcrumb can overpower the food they’re coating. Also, there’s a chance they can get soggy if not fried in the right temperature oil. It can also cause a breakdown of oil whilst being fried.
Popular Usage: Chicken Parmesan, schnitzel
Panko Bread Crumb Breading
The breading process is similar to the standard one outlined above. Panko, which is a Japanese breadcrumb is highly crumby giving a high degree of crispness to fried foods. The coating is rather too thick, so the food underneath needs to be able to hold it.
Popular Usage: Japanese-style fried chicken or pork cutlets (tonkatsu)
A thick batter, similar in consistency to pancake batter is created using seasoned flour, beer and sometimes eggs. The beer allows for browning and the bubbles give the batter the perfect airiness. The battered food can be drenched again in flour for more crispiness. The highs about this one are the batter’s flavour. Also its good for delicate foods such as fish. It is quick to make as well and the batter stays robust. However, it scores relatively low on crispiness when compared to other batters. It needs a second coating of flour as the coating can turn soggy too quickly. The batter also must be used as soon as its prepared.
Popular Usage: Fried Fish, Onion Rings
Corn Starch/Tempura Style Batter
A low on protein, high on starch batter such as cornstarch is mixed with ice-cold water (or soda water) or egg and mixed vigorously to create a lumpy batter. The food is quickly dipped and fried. The low protein batter allows less browning, so the flavour of delicate foods such as vegetables or seafood is preserved. However, the batter must be prepared correctly - it's easy to mess it up - get it over or under-mixed. Also, when prepared the batter must be used immediately.
Popular Usage: Korean-style fried chicken, vegetable, shrimp.