When I behold breaded, pan-fried chicken cutlets sitting on a plate alongside mashed sweet potatoes and sautéed spinach, a warm, fuzzy feeling overcomes me. The mere presence of breaded, pan-fried anything triggers an emotional and psychological response in me that can only be described as comfort.
Comfort, as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a satisfying and enjoyable experience, or consolation in a time of trouble or worry.” When this definition is applied to food, we can understand why foods that produce an emotional, nostalgic, cozy or safe feeling are known as comfort foods.
During the dark, cold days of winter we all seem to crave comfort foods. They warm our tummy and our soul.
But what is it exactly about breaded, pan-fried foods and me? Why do I feel so strongly that there could not be a more perfect food than Italian breaded chicken cutlets, veal cutlets, eggplant, flounder, or risotto cakes? Is it the seasoning and texture of the breadcrumbs? Is it the golden crunch of the crust?
The combination of the Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs that adorn the “subject,” along with the olive oil used to fry it to golden perfection, has the ability to break down any amount of will power or portion control that exists in my being. It provides a sensory pleasure that defies description—except only to say that I can declare without hesitation, when I crave comfort, I crave breaded, pan-fried anything.
Perhaps my deep spiritual connection to my Nana can shed some light on this phenomenon. Eating any type of Italian breaded panfried foods bring me back to the stove of my youth. As I dig in, I can see my Nana clearly. It’s as if she has made them for me. I see her at the stove, first dipping the cutlets in the breadcrumbs, then the egg and milk wash, then back into the breadcrumbs, and finally with a gentle splash into the skillet of hot olive oil. She would even save little samples for me to “test.” I often wonder if she made sure there were little pieces just so she could give me a tester. And then, there were her risotto cakes—a comfort food wrapped in a comfort food!
My grandmother showed her love for us by making our favorite foods. And truly, what could be better? I now relish the moments when my loved ones dive into a plate of chicken cutlets or risotto cakes and devour them with gusto. Doing this over and over is like hitting the joy replay button.
It’s clear to me that breaded, pan-fried anything is my connection to my past, and it has become the bridge to my future. I loved to eat them as a child. I now love to cook them (and eat them too!). But mostly, I love feeling my grandmother’s hands and love channeled through me as I prepare my favorite dishes for my friends and family. This is my definition of comfort. What’s yours?