It’s time to just ‘fess up, people, and admit to one another that fried stuff is really good. And too often our efforts to reduce the fat quotient and increase the health quotient by baking things that we love fried ends up being an exercise in compromise. And these mozzarella sticks are just one in a long line of examples of this heartbreaking truth. And yet we still loved them.
Now, if you’ve never tasted a fried mozzarella stick, then you’re good to go here. These really are pretty tasty and fun. It’s just that if you HAVE ever had a fried mozzarella stick, it will be hard not to notice the absence of, well, crispy fat. I think we all sort of (maybe secretly) love crispy fat.
But here’s the deal. Crispy fat isn’t really very good for us. So I decided that a baked version of our beloved mozzarella sticks was worth a try. And really, they were awfully good. All of my guinea pigs liked them a lot, especially my 16 month old grandson who dipped them repeatedly in the marinara sauce, which for some reason, really made me laugh.
But mozzarella sticks are tricky, people, especially if you’re baking them. It’s almost impossible to get a nice crispy-brown exterior cuz you can’t cook them overly long for fear of creating a very large cheese puddle on your baking sheet. So after scouring dozens of recipes for these babies (yes, my job can be grueling at times), I gathered a couple of tricks that actually worked pretty well in accomplishing said goal of a crispy, brown exterior while avoiding the dreaded melted cheese explosion.
So the first crispy trick is to use panko bread crumbs instead of standard crumbs. Very crispy. Second trick is to brown the crumbs before applying them to your cheese sticks (very clever). Third trick is to freeze your cheese sticks before baking them (exceptionally clever). I wish I could take credit for this abundance of cleverness, but I can only claim a limited amount of cleverness in compiling the cleverness of others into one recipe. That’s sort of clever, but not like exceptionally so.
But we did love these, once we got over the fact that they weren’t going to taste like fried. They taste like baked. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially since we’re talking about melty mozzarella cheese (see my follow-up at the end of the post). And since they’re NOT fried, you can just go ahead and eat a whole bunch of them. Here’s the recipe…
Baked Mozzarella Sticks
I found that the secret to making good mozzarella sticks is to freeze them before baking, so be sure to allow enough time in your planning for them to spend an hour in the freezer. And since we’re lacking the flavor of fried crispiness, make sure your marinara sauce is super flavorful! I’ve included a link to my recipe below.
1 ¼ cups panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup flour
1 12-oz package mozzarella sticks, cut in half
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning (I used my Tuscan Herb Salt)
1 cup marinara sauce
Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
Place the breadcrumbs in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and stir until golden brown. Remove to a plate. Stir in the Italian seasoning.
Beat together the eggs and milk in a shallow bowl.
Place the flour in a separate bowl.
Dip each cheese stick in the flour and until the cheese is coated really well. Then dip in the egg mixture to coat and then into the breadcrumbs, turning to cover completely. Place on the prepared baking sheet and continue with the rest of the mozzarella sticks.
Place the baking sheet into the freezer for at least one hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the cheese sticks from the freezer and spray them with a little nonstick cooking spray and then bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Let sit 3 to 5 minutes before serving.
Note: To increase the crispiness factor, you can re-dip the mozzarella sticks in the egg and then again in the breadcrumbs before baking.
I felt the need to address Hilary's question in the comments section, because yes, these really did turn out melty and delicious. I should have posted this photo to begin with, but I just wasn't in love with it... too many fingers or something. But I feel better now and you can see that just because you decided to bake your mozzarella sticks, it doesn't mean you have to miss out on any of the cheese-y goodness.