You are here

Fake n' Bake: 5 Fried Foods That Are Better Baked

Have food, will fry. It's practically an American motto, but it's also just about the unhealthiest way to eat otherwise healthy fare such as potatoes, chicken, fish, and veggies. "Frying not only nearly triples a food's caloric content because of the added fat from frying oil, but heating foods to high temperatures can cause the formation of cancer-causing compounds," says Nicolette Pace, an R.D. in private practice in Great Neck, NY.  Plus, frying isn't always the tastiest way to cook, since fat can dull taste buds and mute flavors. Cut the fat and keep the flavor (and the golden brown crust) by trying these smarter cooking methods:

Potatoes

Ah, potatoes. Perfectly healthy, low-calorie tubers that are routinely undone by butter, oil, and cream. And when they're sliced into sticks or chips and sunk into a vat of oil, as the saying goes, no one can eat just one.

Why They're Better Baked: Potatoes are a natural foil for added flavors: herbs, garlic, and a little crunchy sea salt. And they're a cinch to make in the oven. Cut into wedges, toss with egg whites, and sprinkle with the chopped herb of your choice. Bake for 30-40 minutes in a 350-degree oven and you'll get a pile of "fries" with a golden brown crust and a moist interior that serve as an excellent vehicle for ketchup.

Chicken Cutlets

Frying chicken, like frying potatoes, turns relatively lean meat into a delicious yet waistline-thickening finger food, logging nearly 500 calories for one measly drumstick.

Why They're Better Baked: In this case, Pace recommends a method she calls "dry frying." To make crispy chicken cutlets with less than half the calories and a fraction of the fat, coat chicken breasts in egg white then Panko, a Japanese breadcrumb that is shaved rather pulverized, creating jagged pieces that easily form a crispy crust. Heat a non-stick skillet to medium, and cook about 6-8 minutes per side until golden brown.

Eggplant

If you want to rack up the fat content of an otherwise harmless, low-calorie veggie, fry up a few slices of eggplant. Eggplant has the absorbency power of a super sponge, soaking up every last drop of oil it comes into contact with.

Why It's Better Baked: Raw eggplant is spongy and tasteless. But once it's cooked, it becomes soft and almost meaty in texture—and you don't need much fat to get this desired result. To make a lower fat eggplant parm, lightly coat eggplant slices with egg whites, dredge in trusty Panko, and layer on an aluminum tray lightly sprayed with a healthy oil (like canola). Bake at 350 for 30 minutes and you end up with a crispy exterior and soft interior, perfect for topping with a homemade tomato sauce and a little shredded mozzarella.

Fish

Breaded, deep fried fish is really just a way to get kids and non fish fans to eat, well, fish. This completely negates any of its health benefits: low in fat, high in protein, and in possession of ultra-healthy nutrients like omega 3s, depending on the species.

Why It's Better Baked: Fish, especially the white flaky varieties that are usually deep fried (like cat fish or cod) cook quickly, so they do well with a coating of Panko, a light spray of oil, and 10-12 minutes in the oven. Served with a squirt of lemon and some hot sauce, it's healthy, tasty, and very similar to the basket of fried fish you'd find at a seaside clam shack.

Another method that Pace uses to eliminate the coating all together: A grill press. Using a grill or Panini type food press, season the fish fillet with salt, pepper, and an herb of your choice. Lightly coat the grill with oil and sear. This produces a nice crust on its own and keeps the interior moist and flaky.

Cheese

What was originally a lovely pre-meal bite in Italian cuisine—a small wedge of good homemade mozzarella coated with egg and quickly fried—has become bastardized into the gooey, caloric nightmare known as Mozzarella sticks, the app of choice at chain restaurants nationwide.

Why It's Better Baked: Because warm cheese—whatever the heat source—is pretty decadent on its own; dunking in hot oil just ups the saturated fat and calories. If you want to ape the deep fried stick experience, try dipping rounds of firm goat cheese (though a wedge of brie or even firm mozzarella would work) in egg whites, and roll in (you guessed it) Panko. Place on a lightly coated sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes at 350. The taste you crave is crunch and gooey cheese, and you'll still get that in spades.