Who doesn’t love the savory crunch of fried foods? Sadly, the greasy aftertaste, stomachache and fat overload often leave me wanting to break up. With a few tweaks, you can still make lighter versions of your favorites.
Too Many Calories, Too Much Fat
Americans are fascinated with fried foods. Browse our site and you can find a fried version of most everything: mac and cheese, zucchini, plantains, apple pies and even butter balls (guess who created that recipe?). Beyond that, nearly every restaurant or fast-food menu features something fried. A large order of fast-food fries has more than 500 calories and 30 grams of fat (including 7 grams of artery-hating saturated fat). Another favorite, fried chicken sandwiches weigh in at about 500 calories and 26 grams fat each. And then there’s breakfast — a simple doughnut has about 200 calories and 10 grams fat.
Many U.S. cities have started banning trans fats in restaurants (trans fats come from hydrogenated, non-wholesome cooking oils), but even fried foods without trans fat are still full of calories and other no-so-good-for you fats.
And it doesn’t stop at restaurant fries or chicken sandwiches; chips, tater tots, chicken cutlets, fish sticks, mozzarella sticks, onion rings — all fried. But there are ways to enjoy these foods without packing on the extra pounds. The most important thing: steer clear of the deep fryer. A small amount of oil in a good pan or a hot oven is all you need for similar flavor and crunch.
Step 1: Choose Your Oil Wisely
All oils have the same amount of calories and fat — 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon. But some oils are less processed and better for frying than others. At home, I like to use canola or grapeseed oil. Sometimes all I need is a spritz of cooking spray! I like these oils because they can withstand high cooking temperatures and don’t have a strong flavor that will interfere with my recipes. They also contain some omega-3 fats and antioxidants. But you should use oils sparingly; focus on getting your basic nutrients from lower-calorie foods. Though healthy, extra-virgin olive oil isn’t good for any type of frying because of its strong flavor; at high cooking temperatures, it can also smoke up your kitchen.
Step 2: Fake It
Faux frying isn’t a bad thing. Light breading and a small amount of oil is the magic combo for making this work. I use coatings made from cornmeal, cracker crumbs, corn flakes, panko or whole-wheat bread crumbs to create a crispy crust. Just dredge your chicken, fish, shrimp or veggie through seasoned flour, egg wash and one of these coatings. You can trade the egg wash for a quick drizzle of honey and sprinkle on the crispy coating, too.
After coating, place food on a baking sheet and into a hot oven; then bake it until golden and crisp (follow the recipe for times). Another trick is to pre-cook your breaded foods in a nonstick pan with a few teaspoons of oil. Saute a few minutes on each side, and then transfer to the oven to finish cooking. This works well for seafood especially.
Sometimes you don’t even need a coating. Oven fries may not be the same as those fresh from the fryer but they’re still delicious. I just slice up some Yukon gold or sweet potatoes into sticks or wedges, toss the pieces with a few teaspoons of oil, add salt and pepper and then roast in a 425 degree oven for about 35 to 40 minutes (turning once). You can spice up your fries with seasoned salt, chili powder or minced garlic, too. Leave the skins on for a bit of crunchy texture.