Wednesday, 6 April 2011


While I was researching my blog on Froot Loops I came upon an article about Cap’n Crunch.  Did you know that the promotional material and the cast of characters for Cap’n Crunch were designed first, and then a cereal made to fit with the promotion?  Pretty interesting, eh?

The big hook that gets buyers to purchase Cap’n Crunch is that it stays crunchy even in milk.  I’m not sure I want to know how they managed that (Do you remember Chevy Chase talking about “non-nutrative cereal varnish” in Christmas Vacation?) but I do know that the folks in the food lab have a very good understanding of their market.

Crunch is a big thing for us.  We value its texture in our food and, for the home cook, it can be a challenging thing to attain.  Most of us don’t fire up the deep fryer on a regular basis and we certainly don’t have a food chemistry lab in the room behind our kitchens.  Without them, it’s hard to add crunchy texture to our dinner table fare.

Without deep frying, crunchy textures are easiest to achieve through candy making or baking.  Unlike the rapid seer that creates crunch in a fryer, crunch in sugary foods is attained by cooking sugar at high temperatures.  When heated to a high enough temperature, sugar becomes brittle and that brittleness translates into crunch.

We can also achieve a crunchy texture by coating our food with crumbs (especially Panko), cornmeal, nuts, or dry cheeses like Parmesan before baking them.  In fact, Parmesan cheese when baked by itself, with no added ingredients, will yield a thin, crunchy wafer.

At the end of the day, though, the best way to create a crunchy texture in our food remains deep frying.  I’m not saying we should do it every day or even every week but once in a while, as a special treat, a dish from the fryer doesn’t go amiss.

When we do get the fryer out at our house, crispy onions are a favourite treat.  As with many of my dishes, making them is more a matter of technique than one of following a specific recipe.  If you’d like to try them too, here’s how:

Cut sweet or red onions in half and then slice them thinly.  Toss the slices to separate the individual pieces.  Put the onion pieces in a zipper lock bag and marinate them for several hours—or overnight—in a mixture of buttermilk, salt, pepper, and a little hot sauce.  When you’re ready to cook them, turn the onions and their marinade out into a bowl.  Stir in enough cornstarch to make a batter that is about the consistency of pancake batter.  Fry the battered onions in 350 degree oil until golden and crisp.  It won’t take long; just a couple of minutes.  Salt the cooked onions as soon as they come out of the fryer.  Place them on a wire rack set into a sheet pan and keep them warm in a 200 degree oven while you finish cooking the rest of the batch.  Once the entire batch is cooked, serve them immediately. 

Crispy onions don’t store worth a darn and get soggy when reheated, so cook only as many as you need and enjoy this special treat as soon as it comes off the stove. CRUNCH!

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