Cooks rely on breading to give their dishes a beautiful color, a satisfying crunch and a pleasantly toasty flavor. However, breading is also a way to protect delicate foods from overcooking, drying and toughening in the heat of your oven or skillet. The mixture of eggs and bread crumbs insulates your food and helps keep moisture from escaping. If you choose not to use eggs, because of a dietary restriction or their fat content, there are a variety of alternatives.
Eggs and Breading
The standard technique restaurants use for breading is pretty straightforward. Dip your food in flour and shake off the excess. Dip it again into egg, which combines with the flour to make a sticky paste. Dip the food a final time into the breading, which adheres to the paste and makes a seal around the food. The proteins in the egg and flour coagulate when your food is baked or fried, making a firm layer that holds your breading in place and traps moisture inside your meat, fish or poultry.
Egg Whites and Egg Substitute
The majority of the proteins in an egg are found in the white, while the fat is concentrated in the yolk. If you're minimizing your use of eggs because of their fat and cholesterol content, using egg whites in place of whole eggs is a simple and effective replacement. If you are allergic to eggs, there are a few egg replacement products on the market that are completely egg-free. These can also be used in breading as a straightforward substitution.
Milk and Dairy Products
Milk is widely used as a substitute for eggs in breading, and many recipes call for milk instead. It adequately moistens the flour and makes a suitable paste for the bread crumbs to adhere to. Milk also contains enough proteins to help the bread crumbs bind to the food as it cooks. Some cooks favor buttermilk, light cream or evaporated milk over regular milk because they are slightly thicker and cling to the flour better, but even skim milk will work if that's all you have.
The purpose of the flour and egg combination is to create a pasty surface for your breading. One alternative method is to simply spread the food with a substance that already has the correct texture. Thick dairy products such as sour cream and plain yogurt work well, though sour cream is not a low-calorie option. Condiments such as Dijon mustard, barbecue sauce and even ketchup can be used when their strong flavors are appropriate. Mayonnaise or eggless mayonnaise are also suitable and have a more neutral flavor.