Gluten-free Crust Gives Crunch Without Bad Fat

Gluten-free Crust Gives Crunch Without Bad Fat

Steve "Mo" Fye offers an easy way to make fried foods without those pesky fats or (potentially) life-threatening gluten

Fried Foods No Longer Off-Limits for Allergy Sufferers

We all love deep-fried food. It may be the favorite way to eat veggies, proteins or starches.

The problem with frying is that it adds a huge amount of fat, and breading and batter add empty starch calories.

Our palates tend to love the crunch and feel of deep frying. Those who want to avoid the fat and starch of battered and breaded food need a healthier option.

Flour, bread crumbs and whole eggs are the traditional breading. Usually, cooks season a protein or ingredient to be fried with salt and pepper. Then, the “Classic Breading Method” is to have three containers of coatings; dredge the item in seasoned flour, dip it in beaten eggs, and then coat it in bread crumbs or an equivalent. Fry it until it is golden brown and cooked through. This is delicious, but unhealthy.

Asian cuisines have long known the almost mystical combination of starch and egg whites as the coating for “velveting.” This technique can become the basis for an entrée that has the crunch, the fattiness and the insulation between surface and protein that provides a delicious coating, but does not add the gluten, starch and carcinogens of deep-fried food.

Egg whites are low in cholesterol and their albumin solidifies easily and quickly. Substituting corn starch, tapioca starch or potato starch removes gluten that has become the bugaboo of so many diets.

This method will work with nearly any protein, but boneless, skinless chicken breast is a cheap and convenient way to get flavor.

Let’s take this method and remove the nutritionally outdated parts. Season the trimmed chicken with salt and pepper. Set up an alternative to the classic breading. You will need a plastic bag with several tablespoons of corn starch, tapioca starch or another alternative. Beat one egg white per chicken breast in a bowl. The last step in the prep is a bowl filled with crushed nuts. I used pecans, since New Mexico pecans are in season and the pieces are available at specialty grocery stores cheap.

Always buy nuts as small as you need, since whole nuts or halves are far more expensive. This recipe works well with pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or crushed walnuts or hazelnuts. For the best coverage, pulse the nuts in a food processor for a few seconds or smash with a heavy skillet in a plastic zipper bag.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and line a sheet tray with foil. Take the chicken from the starch and coat it completely in egg whites. Shake off the excess and then coat it completely in crushed nuts. Press the nuts into the chicken to get a good coating. Place the chicken on the sheet pan and bake it until the nuts are toasted and the chicken reaches 165°F internal temperature.

Let the chicken rest away from heat for a few minutes and slice it lengthwise to show the perfectly cooked protein and the crisp nut crust.

The point of this method is to reduce fat and cholesterol, but I couldn’t let egg yolks go to waste. I made a quick Dijon Hollandaise by beating the leftover yolks with half a stick of melted butter, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of cider vinegar and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. A far healthier option is a vinaigrette of Dijon, wine vinegar and some fresh herbs beaten with olive oil. Even better, serve the chicken over rice cooked in chicken stock accompanied by a green vegetable or a salad.

Kids and hard-core carnivores will enjoy the crisp nut crust; and the healthy fats from the nuts will satisfy the fried-food cravings without adding empty calories.

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Steve “Mo” Fye is an Instructional Tech in the Culinary Arts program at Central New Mexico Community College and has been known to giggle after making a low-fat, gluten-free, low-cholesterol dish and eating it with a sauce he knows will blow his diet for days.

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