Learning a completely new-to-me use for a familiar ingredient is one of my favorite parts of cooking. It’s exciting and humbling—a nice little reminder that, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t know shit about shit. The most recent example of this is semolina flour: I’d only used it while baking bread until about a week ago, when I was delighted to learn that it also makes the best coating for fried foods I’ve ever tried in my life.
I first heard about this technique from cookbook author Nik Sharma’s TASTE Cooking article about semolina, which was originally published in 2018 but re-upped on social media sometime in the past few months. The title—“Grainier than Flour, Crispier than Bread Crumbs”—sold me right away. I love crispy fried foods, I hate dealing with breadcrumbs, and I just so happened to have a full bag of semolina flour left over from that time I swore I was going to “get really into making fresh pasta.” (I did not.) If nothing else, this seemed like a good way to get some use out of a neglected pantry ingredient.
It turned out to be so much more than that. First, we have to talk about the texture: Although semolina is a coarse flour made from durum wheat, it fries up into something that’s halfway between cornstarch and cornmeal. Like cornstarch, semolina forms an extremely thin crust on fried foods, which is ideal for delicate ingredients that could be overpowered by heavy batters or a thicker dredge. But unlike cornstarch, the bite you get from a semolina crust is crunchy, not crispy. It’s surprisingly substantial, yet finer and less gritty than cornmeal. You can see just how thin the coating is in this photo:
In addition to its excellent texture, I’ve found semolina flour to be both easier to use and far more versatile than any other dredge (or batter) I’ve tried. In the past week, I’ve used it on baked eggplant slices for eggplant parmesan, pan-fried tofu cubes, and of course, the chicken thigh schnitzel situation from the photos above. I didn’t use a liquid binder to help the flour adhere; I just pressed the surface of the food into the semolina and went for it. Every single dish turned out perfectly, which surprised me a little. Usually, I’d use different types of dredges for each—plain flour for the eggplant, cornstarch for the tofu, and a traditional three-phase breading for the chicken—but clearly, I don’t need to anymore.
To make your own semolina-crusted fried snacks, all you need is some food you’d like to fry and some semolina flour. Drier foods (think cauliflower, mushrooms, or green beans) may require a dip in beaten eggs or milk, or a brush of mayo to help the flour stick, but anything that gives off its own liquid should be able to pick up plenty of flour on its own. Shake off the excess, pop it in some hot oil (or a hot oven or air fryer), and you’ll have a perfectly crunchy, minimally fussy fried snack.
Read the full article here