How to Make Healthy "Fried" Food

Hungry Girl's Lord of the Onion Rings
Courtesy of Hungry-Girl.com

What if you could eat a higher fiber version of onion rings? You can! When I crave onion rings, I pulverize high-fiber breakfast cereal in a blender to make a crumb coating. Not only are the resulting baked onion rings crispy and high in fiber, they are also low in fat and highly delicious. And onion rings aren't the only fried food you can re-create with this "faux-fry" technique. Use it to give a diet-friendly makeover to chicken fingers, popcorn shrimp, jalapeño poppers, and more.

Here's everything you need to start faux-frying.

Ingredients

The "faux-fry" method is pretty standard. You need a few basic ingredients, no matter what you choose to fry.

  • Fat-free liquid egg substitute: This is what keeps the crumbs on your food, and using egg substitute rather than whole eggs saves you fat and cholesterol. A quarter-cup serving of egg sub (which is generally just real egg whites with added nutrients) has about 30 calories. You can use egg whites if you'd prefer, but egg substitute generally works best.
  • High-fiber cereal: Look for twig-shaped cereal, not flakes, with 80 calories or less per 1/2-cup serving. The twigs yield the perfect breadcrumb-like texture. I'm a huge fan of Fiber One Original bran cereal, which has just 60 calories per 1/2 cup, plus 14 grams of fiber. Other good choices? All-Bran Original cereal (which is aspartame-free) and all-natural Nature's Path Organic SmartBran cereal.
  • Spices and herbs: Season your cereal crumbs to cut some of the sweetness and enhance the savory flavor. For onion rings, I like garlic powder and onion powder. For eggplant Parmesan, Italian seasoning does the trick. Salt and black pepper work well with everything. If you're watching your sodium, salt-free seasoning blends like the kinds by Mrs. Dash are fantastic. It's a must-have seasoning for your cupboard! 
  • Protein or veggies: Pretty much any food you'd enjoy fried can be faux-fried. Use chicken to make nuggets, chicken Parm, drumsticks, and even boneless Buffalo wings (the trick to that one is adding hot sauce to the egg bath). I also like shrimp, fish fillets, and calamari rings. When it comes to veggies, onions are an obvious pick, but you should also try green beans, zucchini slices, and halved jalapeños stuffed with light cheese. Did you know that you can also make healthier french fries out of these?
  • Fun extras: Take your cereal coating to the next level by adding crushed baked chips (BBQ flavor works amazingly well for chicken wings), grated Parmesan cheese, panko breadcrumbs, or coconut (perfect for coconut shrimp). You can also flavor up your egg substitute with hot sauce, light salad dressing like honey mustard or ranch, or BBQ sauce.  

"Frying" Tools to Use

You'll need a few basic pieces of kitchen equipment to make these dishes. If you don't have them, we have a few alternatives you can try.

  • Blender or food processor: The easiest way to get uniform crumbs is to use a blender or food processor. I like to grind up a big batch of the cereal at once and store it in an airtight sealable container. If you're going that route and then following a recipe that calls for the whole cereal, know this: The crumbs measure out to be about half the amount of the cereal itself. So if the recipe calls for 1/2 cup cereal, you'll need about 1/4 cup of the crumbs.

    No Blender? No Problem! Just put the cereal into a sealable plastic bag. Pound with a meat mallet or heavy can until it's reduced to crumbs.
  • Wide bowls: You'll need two bowls, one for the egg and another for the cereal crumbs. Wide bowls allow you to easily coat the food. If you'd prefer, you can put the seasoned ground cereal in a sealable container and coat your food Shake 'N Bake style.
  • Baking sheet: A sheet is great because you can spread out the food to make sure it crisps up nicely. A pan can be used to make layered chicken or eggplant Parm. And, of course, you'll need an oven. It's also helpful to have an oven thermometer to make sure your oven is heating to the right temperature.

    If you'd like to cook on the stovetop, you can use a skillet for smaller dishes, like a single chicken cutlet. Cook over medium heat and flip halfway through.
  • Nonstick Spray: This is the key to making sure your crumb coating sticks where it's supposed to—the food! Spritz the baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. You can also give a spritz to the top of the food, which helps the coating get a bit crunchier. Just don't go overboard! Even "calorie-free" foods like nonstick spray typically have some calories
  • Helpful Extra - Tongs: While these aren't required, they're really helpful when transferring food from the egg wash to the cereal coating and then to the sheet, pan, or skillet. And they'll keep your fingers from getting coated in eggs and crumbs.

How to Start "Frying"

Follow these steps to get started.

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Spray your sheet with nonstick spray.
  3. Grind or crush the cereal into breadcrumbs. Transfer to a wide bowl and season well.
  4. Dip your food into the egg or egg mixture (in another wide bowl), shake gently to remove excess, and coat thoroughly with crumbs. Transfer to the baking sheet.
  5. Bake until cooked through and crispy.

Recipes

Ready to get in the kitchen and start faux-frying? There are plenty of recipes to try, from Pan-Fried Chicken Parm to Delish Fish 'n Chips. 

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