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June 17, 2009

Oven Frying . . . for the Potato Flakes Among Us


There is a little magic at work when boiling water is added to a potato flake. Absorbing the water as one might expect a precocious child to absorb a book of advanced calculus, it swells up as if by magic to its original size . . . as if nothing had ever happened.


It might prompt one to ask the question – what is the point of cruelly dehydrating a potato if you only intend to at add the water back into it? Why not simply allow the potato to go about its business until such time as its assistance is required?


A good question, but failing entirely to take into account that the answer could be, “Because you may wish to do other things with it.”


It turns out that there is an entire potato subculture where its flaked form is used to create an outer shell around meat designed to trap moisture. This is especially true when applied to chicken, which is a dinner plate friend and ally of the potato.


We speak of a process here known otherwise as oven frying. You may be familiar with frying as a function of a stovetop burner. You place a pan on top, add oil, heat and food. After this, that and the other thing, the food is cooked and you eat. It is as complicated as it is generally heart-healthy.


What is oven frying? Oven frying involves placing something in an oven-safe dish, putting it into a preheated oven, waiting an appropriate amount of time and after it is cooked eating it. This is typically known by another name – baking.


So, why call gussy up a dish by referring to the process of oven frying as baking? People’s palates are generally better disposed to frying than baking, which has a reputation for meat that is short on juicy flavor and long on shoe-leather toughness and aridity. The term oven frying, thus, is a shortened version of “same thing you really want to eat, but cooked in a fashion that won’t cause your heart to explode the minute you rise from the table.”


This is where our friend the potato flake comes in. Combine it with some breadcrumbs, garlic powder and a little paprika. In other bowl, beat an egg with some milk.


Here is where things take a turn for the weird. Rather than turning on the stovetop burner, instead turn the oven knob to preheat at 400 degrees. Dredge the chicken through the milk and egg, and then roll in the coating. Once completed, rather than dropping into hot oil, place in an oven-safe dish and stick into the oven. Rather than waiting about 10 minutes for it to fry in oil, go read a book for half an hour or more – until the meat juices run clear and the thermometer reads 165 degrees. You may call this frying if you wish, or you may call it baking. What you will certainly also call it is delicious.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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