Embracing the Crunch

February 14, 2019

Chefs coat foods with crunchy ingredients that elevate the eating experience.

Coatings that crunch infographic

The texture of a food item and the crunchy sound of biting into it can be as important as flavor in the enjoyment of a dish.

In fact, several scientific research studies have concluded that the sound of eating crunchy foods often enhances consumer perception of the items — and more chefs have embraced this concept. From crispy coatings on fried chicken to hardened shells surrounding gooey desserts, the “crunch factor” is transforming dishes to be even more delicious.

Flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs have long been used to create a crunchy coating for proteins, but many operators are innovating by substituting crumbled cereal, crackers or cookies in place of the breadcrumbs. These coatings can add buttery, savory or sweet flavors to a dish in addition to crunchiness. Panko and tempura are also popular crunchy coatings, especially as Asian dishes become more mainstream.

Other ingredients popping up in coatings include:

  • grains
  • nuts
  • rice
  • seeds

Flavor flexibility

Crunchy coatings provide a great vehicle for changing up the flavors of a dish, notes Christine Couvelier, culinary trendologist at consulting firm Culinary Concierge.

Any flavor of potato chips could be used to create a crunchy coating for a baked chicken dish, for example. In addition, blending various cheeses, herbs and spices into a crunchy coating is another way to create a different flavor, she says.

“Depending on the theme of your restaurant or the style of your restaurant, you could make any of these crispy coatings match what you are doing, whether it’s an ethnic twist or another particular style,” says Couvelier.

Also, consider using gluten-free crackers as a coating to make a gluten-free dish, she suggests.

Chicken crunch

Chefs have long innovated in creating crispy coatings for fried or baked chicken dishes. Chef Roy Choi in 2014 crafted a recipe for fried chicken tenders using GOLDEN OREO Cookies that received widespread media attention and praise.

For that recipe, Choi combined the crumbled cookies with panko and parsley to form a crunchy coating for the tenders that the Cooking Channel described as an “appealing mix of sweet and salty, especially when plunged into the chef’s spicy banana habanero ketchup.”

Other efforts combining cookies and chicken included a limited time offer from fried-chicken chain Popeyes that used shortbread cookies in the coating.

Couvelier suggests a chicken breast breaded with panko that has been mixed with an “everything” spice that includes poppy seeds, sesame seeds, dried onions, dried garlic and salt.

“You could change that up with different grated cheeses and other herbs and spices to create something different every time,” she says.

Finely ground RITZ Crackers also make an interesting breading choice for chicken or fish, imparting a buttery taste and a pleasing texture and color. RITZ crackers can also add crunch to a variety of appetizers, such as Mac ’n Cheese Stuffed Potatoes with finely ground RITZ Crackers as a crunchy topping, and Pulled Pork and Cheese Stuffed Jalapeno Poppers that feature finely ground Ritz Crackers and cornmeal as a crunchy outer coating.

Fried ice cream

One of the hottest dessert dishes on menus in recent years is fried ice cream, which is often positioned as a Mexican dish.

One Mexican restaurant chain based in the western U.S. mixes crumbled corn flakes cereal with cinnamon and sugar to create the crunchy coating. Hard vanilla ice cream is formed into balls and then allowed to soften slightly at room temperature for a few minutes before being rolled in the coating and placed back in the freezer to harden again. It is then dropped in the fryer for 10-15 seconds before serving in a bowl, drizzled with a chocolate sauce.

At Sinigual restaurant in New York, the deep fried ice cream is made with dulce de leche ice cream, coated in a banana-nut crust and cinnamon sugar, served with a chipotle-chocolate sauce, fresh cream and Patrón XO Café coffee liqueur.

Other coatings

Louis Tikaram, executive chef of E.P. & L.P. in Los Angeles, makes a Ginger Crunchie dessert that includes white chocolate ginger ganache covered in milk chocolate and then rolled in crunchy ginger flakes.

“Desserts are always sweet, so balancing textures in a dessert is so important,” Tikaram says in an interview with Nation's Restaurant News. “And we all know a crunchy outside with a gooey inside is about as good as it gets.”

Sugar has also long been used to create a crunchy coating.

Tanghulu, a street food snack popular in China and Taiwan, is made by boiling sugar and water to create a syrup in which pieces of raw fruit on a bamboo skewer are dipped, and then allowed to cool and harden. These “fruit lollipops,” as they are sometimes called, can be made with grapes, strawberries, kiwi and other fruits.

Whatever flavors your guests might be seeking, chances are that “the crunch factor” will help you create a unique culinary experience they won’t soon forget.