Image for article titled Why You Should Dredge More (and Fry Less)

Photo: Claire Lower

When people talk about deep-frying fish they usually mean deep-frying – or at least that’s what I’m talking about. But pan frying is also a valid form of fish preparation, especially if you don’t feel like bothering with a lot of hot oil. Not only is a vat of deep-frying oil a nuisance to dispose of, it also tends to fog up and coat your body, hair, walls, and area with a thin, greasy film.

Pan frying also allows you to forego the entire three-step batter process, but if you leave your fish completely naked it can stick to the pan, especially if you use a less seasoned cast iron or stainless steel pan. (I know making the pan hot enough and letting it form a crust can soften this, but nailing that song and dance can be intimidating for anyone new to fish cooking.) Fortunately, there is a good one Middle way: fry the fish in the pan, but only then dredge it a bit.

Dredging is the simple act of dragging a piece of food through some flour and then shaking it off. It’s usually taken as the first step in punching – like “punching” rather than “repeating” – but it’s a great technique in itself. Dredging a piece of fish (or other protein) will help brown it, but it will also create a protective layer between the food and the pan that prevents it from sticking. (The fish you see above wasn’t cooked in a non-stick pan, and yet it didn’t stick! Not even a bit.)

Don’t overdo it

Image for article titled Why You Should Dredge More (and Fry Less)

Photo: Claire Lower

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A really great excavator is subtle. An excessive amount of flour can mix with the moisture from your food, resulting in a pasty, sticky coating instead of a thin, golden crust. You want to be able to see the color of your food showing through, so take a quick dip on each side, then give the protein a shake and a whack to tap off any excess material.

Don’t rely on flour for taste

Flour doesn’t taste like much, which is why most dredging guides recommend seasoning the flour before making the dip. One tablespoon of salt per cup of flour is a popular ratio, but I doubled that without seeing a significant increase in salt content. Instead of adding salt until I can taste it in the flour (which would require a fair amount of salt), I instead season my protein with a quick brine or cure it before it hits the flour.

Just mix up a quick regimen of two parts salt and one part sugar, sprinkle all of your protein, and wait 15 minutes. (I originally started using this remedy with fish, but also with pork. Haven’t tried chicken yet, but I bet it would be nice.) When the quarter of an hour is up, rinse the salt and sugar off your fish or meat and pat dry with paper towels, then dredge as described above.

Think thin (i.e. proteins)

Image for article titled Why You Should Dredge More (and Fry Less)

Photo: Claire Lower

Thin, delicate proteins that cook quickly are the best candidates for dredging. Flour prevents the thin meat from sticking to the pan, but it will eventually go from golden brown to burnt black Chicken breast knocked out.

Once your food is seasoned and lightly covered with flour, add a tablespoon or two of fat to a pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil or butter is hot, add your dredged fish, chop, or other cut of meat and cook. You will develop a nice, tender, golden crust, and you can make a quick sauce by adding a dash of wine or vinegar to any browned flour that sticks to the pan. (The sauce you see on top of the pork chop is a mix of salted flour, apple cider vinegar, and a couple of healthy splashes of hot honey. It’s decided.)