Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Homemade Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs have always been a conundrum for me.  They are undeniably delicious, adding body and flavor to many dishes, but frankly, they also not very convenient.  Or so I thought.  Inevitably, I'd make a recipe that called for breadcrumbs, which either meant one of three things: 1) I'd have to make fresh breadcrumbs, which was sort of like having to make a whole other dish; 2) I'd have to use the store bought kind, which was bland, frighteningly uniform, and never lasted once opened; or 3) skip the breadcrumbs entirely.  Depending on how critical it was to the dish, I usually opted for option #3.  It was preferable to facing the other two options, but obviously not ideal.  Many a dish would have benefited from the addition of some breadcrumbs, but I did without.

Homemade Breadcrumbs

Why I didn't want to use the stuff that comes from the grocery store in a cannister is pretty obvious.  But why did I consider having to make breadcrumbs like making a whole other dish?  Well, it seemed to me that it was a lot of effort.  First, I'd have to make sure I had the right kind of bread on hand, and recipes everywhere said that it was preferable if the bread was a bit stale.  So that took the spontaneity out.  I'd have to plan in advance to first wait for the bread to get stale, then make the breadcrumbs, then make the actual dish.  I'm not good at that much advanced planning.  Then there was the process of actually making the breadcrumbs, which to me also seemed strangely complicated for such a seemingly simple thing.  Many recipes talked about drying out the stale bread in the oven, for xx minutes at a low temperature, then crumbling or processing it afterward.  Other recipes spoke of grating stale bread using a cheese grater to create breadcrumbs, which seemed like a lot of effort to me.  Then after all that effort, you'd have breadcrumbs enough for the dish you were making, but then you'd have to do it all over again the next time.

Except it turns out that breadcrumbs freeze really well.  That being the case, I could conceivably make a lot of breadcrumbs at one time, freeze it, then use a bit at a time as necessary.  The effort to make the breadcrumbs, in that case, becomes more worthwhile.  Except it also turns out that there's actually a very simple and easy way to make breadcrumbs, that doesn't discriminate against fresh bread (though stale still is better because it takes less time).  Hallelujah!  How has it taken me this long to discover this?

Start with artisan or homemade bread if possible -- something hearty.  Basically, not white sandwich bread.  That would probably work as well, but it would probably be as tasteless as the stuff you buy in cannisters -- in which case, save yourself the trouble and just buy it.  Slice off the crust; it keeps the breadcrumbs from browning evenly.  Slice up the loaf or a few slices, however much breadcrumbs you want to make (keep in mind the volume shrinks by about half once toasted), to 1/2-1 inch cubes.  Put those in a food processor.  In this case, I'm definitely a fan of embracing technology.  Process until the bread has turned uniformly into large crumbs (it'll never get as powdery as cannister breadcrumbs).  Spread the breadcrumbs in a large, shallow baking dish.  Drizzle olive oil over the breadcrumbs -- figure about 1 tbsp per cup of fresh breadcrumbs.  Use a wooden spoon or spatula to mix well, distributing the oil over all the breadcrumbs as best as you can.  Spread out the breadcrumbs in the baking dish again.  Place in a 350°F oven on the second highest rack.  Every 4-5 minutes (more often toward the end), use your wooden spoon/spatula to stir the breadcrumbs and re-spread them out, so that they toast evenly.  How long it takes depends on how many breadcrumbs you have and how thick the layer of them are in the pan.  Here I've made about 3 cups of fresh breadcrumbs, and it took about 30 minutes, but your oven and experience may vary.  When browned to your liking -- be careful toward the end, it will easily get burnt if you're not paying attention -- remove the pan from the oven, give the breadcrumbs another stir, and let cool right in the pan.  I like to keep stirring every once in awhile, because the pan's still hot and I imagine that the breadcrumbs are continuing to toast, but I'm probably just being over cautious.  When completely cooled, use immediately or transfer to a freezer bag or other tightly sealable container.  (If you do it even when the breadcrumbs are even just warm, the condensation will moisten them and they'll lose that lovely crunch.)  They'll keep in the freezer for about a month.

You can obviously get fancy with this; what I describe above is the most basic of breadcrumbs.  You could add salt, herbs, etc.  You could use butter instead of olive oil, or a combination of both.  You could use plain sourdough bread, or you could use a loaf of onion rye.  The bread I used to make the breadcrumbs pictured above was a rosemary olive.  So really, there's no limit on what kind of bread or flavor comination you want to use for your breadcrumbs.  Now that I know they're so easy to make and can be conveniently kept in the freezer, I'll be enjoying breadcrumbs in a wider variety of dishes!  It's been awhile since I added breadcrumbs to my mac and cheese, for instance... >.>

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sole Meuniere

One of the most memorable dishes from the Julie and Julia movie was the first one we see Julia Child eat: sole meuniere. It's based on Julia's recollection of the meal in the memoir My Life in France. In both the book and the movie, Julia is served a whole sole, delicately cooked in butter and lemon. It's the first time she falls in love with food.

Sole Meuniere

It made me want to try sole meuniere at the earliest opportunity. I wasn't ambitious enough to attempt a whole sole, so I used fillets instead. It was still delicious, even if the presentation isn't as grandiose as in a proper French restaurant.

Sole Meuniere


  • 2 fillets of sole
  • 2 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 small lemon, cut lengthwise in half (so 2 quarters)
  • about 1/4 cup flour
  • chopped parsley to garnish
  • salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a pan just large enough to hold both fillets.
  2. Dry the fish thoroughly and season both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge fish in flour, shaking off excess.
  3. When the butter has stopped foaming, slide the fillets into the pan, "presentation side" down. Cook until golden brown and crisp, 2-3 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, thinly slice one of the lemon quarters on the horizontal (so you get little triangles).
  5. Flip the fish over and cook another 2-3 minutes, until that side is also golden brown. Turn off the heat.
  6. Swirl in the remaining 1/2 tbsp of butter, add the lemon slices, and top with parsley. Squeeze lemon juice from the remaining wedge of lemon over both fillets.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Korean-Style Crispy, Spicy, and Sweet Chicken Wings (Dak Kang Jung)

Dak kang jung, a Korean dish of chicken fried crisp then coated in a sweet and spicy sauce, is David Lebovitz's idea of Super Bowl food.  That is why he is awesome.  I was really excited to make these, because it gave me an opportunity to use my new Actifry, which I had never heard of before seeing DL's recipe for these chicken wings.  (He adapted it from Maangchi's recipe for use in the Actifry.)

I love chicken wings -- my favorite are the kind that are served in some Chinese restaurants, where they are deep fried, then seasoned with salt, pepper, and maybe some chopped hot pepper, but I also like buffalo wings, barbecue wings, etc.  So I was pretty excited about these.  I used walnuts instead of peanuts (because that's what I had on hand, and because walnuts are healthier) and tapioca starch instead of corn starch, but otherwise followed DL's recipe to the letter.  I also used rice syrup as he suggests.  Oh, and I had to add some water to the coating, because it was WAY too thick to actually coat the chicken.  It was more like a dough than a paste.

Sweet & Spicy Crispy Chicken Wings

The verdict?  Too sweet for me. :-(  They were good, but I like my food more on the savory rather than sweet side (dessert excepted, of course).  That's why when I am asked to choose a barbecue sauce I usually avoid anything that says "honey" in it.  I think they would appeal to many people; the taste and consistency of the coating is like that of syrup or honey.  I think of this experiment as a success, however, because now I can make chicken wings the same way in the Actifry, but use seasoning I prefer, instead. :-)

A quick note about the Actifry and what it is/does: It basically makes food crispy, emulating the texture of deep-fried foods, with only 1 tbsp of oil.  Obviously this is a healthier and less smelly alternative to deep frying (and perhaps even more importantly, no pot of oil to deal with afterward).  It works well, but does not actually replicate deep frying.  I've made French fries and now the chicken wings, and while both get fairly crisp, it's definitely not to the same level of crisp as deep frying.  It's more like oven crisp, except more evenly done with less work.  So if you're going to make the $300 investment, do so with that in mind.

The chicken wings took 35 minutes to cook.  Here's a time-lapse image compilation of the process:

Chicken Wings Cooked with Actifry

1) The raw chicken wings coated in batter.
2) Wings after 10 minutes of cooking.,
3) After 20 minutes.
4) Done after 35 minutes.

Actifry Cleanup

Afterward, the clean up was a breeze.  The loose batter became crisp, so it was really just a matter of wiping it out with a paper towel and giving the pan a quick wash.  No scrubbing required.  What *was* a big pain to clean was the wok I used to create the sticky coating.  Needed to soak in plenty of hot water before the syrup would wash off.

Korean-Style Crispy, Spicy, and Sweet Chicken Wings (adapted from David Lebovitz's adaptation :P)


For the batter
  • 1/4 cup (35 g) flour
  • 1/4 cup (30 g) cornstarch or other starch
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground red chili pepper
  • 10 chicken wings, tips removed, then each wing cut into two pieces
  • 1 tbsp frying oil (peanut, olive, or canola)
For the coating
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) water or beer
  • 3-inch (7 cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 tbsps soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup (packed) light or dark brown sugar
  • 3 tbsps rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup (160 g) light corn syrup or rice syrup
To finish
  • 1/3 cup (35 g) roasted walnuts (or peanuts), very coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsps toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes
  1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, starch, egg, salt and ground chili pepper until it's a thick paste. Add the wings and mix well with your hands until they're thoroughly coated.  You may need to add a bit of water or milk if the paste is too dry.
  2. Put the coated wings in the ActiFry and drizzle with the oil. Close the lid and cook for 35 minutes, until brown and crispy.  (Or deep-fry the wings in a pot of hot oil twice, in batches. Drain well.)
  3. In a large pot or wok, bring to a boil the water or beer, ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, and syrup. Let cook until the mixture becomes syrupy and thick, and is foaming. It should be about as thick as honey.
  4. Turn off the heat and stir in the cooked wings, nuts, sesame seeds, and chili flakes, until completely coated.