Ordered more frequently than chicken wings by football fans on game days during the 2020-21 NFL season as well as the only option on the menu at Big Stick Willy’s in New York City, mozzarella sticks are having a moment right now.
For proof that the mozzarella stick has become a big cheese in the culinary space, look no further than the Blue Ribbon Corn Dogs kiosk in Disneyland in California. Hand-dipped in batter and rolled in Rice Krispies for extra snap, crackle and pop before being dunked in the fryer, Blue Ribbon’s new supersized mozzarella stick is a thing of beauty for pulled cheese enthusiasts and just the latest innovation in the centuries-old practice of breading and frying cheese.
An earlier result of that practice, mozzarella en carrozza (which translates to “mozzarella in carriage”), traces its roots back to mozzarella-making regions in southern Italy. Traditionally made from leftover slices of dried bread and day-old mozzarella, the dish is reminiscent of a mozzarella stick in sandwich form, although don’t tell that to Ashley Rath, the executive chef at Saint Theo’s in New York City.
“Mozzarella sticks are very popular at the moment, but that’s not my favorite comparison. I don’t really like the grilled cheese comparison either,” she says. “It’s interesting with a crunchy exterior yet creamy inside. It is fried bread with cheese and we add bechamel sauce so that has there is some more luxuriousness to it. The bechamel makes it creamier and helps the mozzarella ooze more when you’re pulling it apart.”
A Syracuse native who is a veteran of notable NYC eateries including Gramercy Tavern and Dirty French, Rath makes her mozzarella en carozza with imported bread from Italy that’s similar to Japanese milk bread and lightly salted mozzarella cheese from Murray’s Cheese and serves it with a light tomato sauce, not marinara. “It’s lighter. It’s nicer. It’s not as heavy or thick and it’s just more unique,” she says. “You taste the tomato, you taste the basil and you taste the garlic. I think is a very solid tomato sauce, but different than most people have seen.”
Named for the way strands of melted mozzarella pull away from the bread in a manner that resembles the reins of a horse and carriage, mozzarella en carrozza is gaining in popularity at Saint Theo’s, but don’t call it mozz sticks.
“It’s one of our highest sellers and people receive it well, but it’s very straightforward,” Rath says. “We import the bread from Italy. We get a wonderful mozzarella from Murray’s. We make a nice bechamel sauce and we make a good tomato sauce. We’re putting attention, care and effort into all of the ingredients and where they are sourced from. It is not just a mozzarella stick. That’s the biggest thing to me. Think of an English tea sandwich — then fry it.”
Chef Ashley Rath’s Mozzarella en Carrozza
- 32 slices Tramezzino bread, ideally Roberto, cut in 2” x 4” pieces
- 16 slices lightly salted fresh mozzarella
- 1 cup Flour
- 8 Eggs
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1 cup Fontina sauce, recipe to follow
- Raw tomato sauce for serving, recipe to follow
- Lay the bread out two pieces at a time.
- Add 1 tablespoon of fontina sauce in the middle of one piece of bread. Add 1 slice of mozzarella next.
- Spray with water from a spray bottle. Place the other piece of bread on top and gently squeeze the sides together with the cheese not coming out of the sides. Move fast because the bread dries out quickly.
- Repeat steps until you’ve made all the pieces you want and place in the fridge. After an hour, bread them with flour, then egg, then panko.
- Fry one piece of the breaded mozz at 350 degrees for five minutes. Let rest for one minute.
- Cut in half and serve with slightly warmed tomato sauce. Makes 16 pieces.
Ingredients for the Fontina sauce
- ½ cup butter
- ⅓ cup onion finely diced
- ⅓ cup flour
- 2 cups milk
- Salt to taste
Instructions for the Fontina sauce
- Melt butter and sweat onions slowly in a saucepan with salt to taste until translucent.
- Add flour and cook until there is no more raw flour and it starts to smell like popcorn.
- Add milk and slowly simmer for 10 minutes.
Ingredients for the raw tomato sauce
- 2 lbs cherry or grape tomatoes
- 1 cup basil leaves
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Salt to taste
Instructions for the raw tomato sauce
- Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add garlic and basil and toast hard until you see color (basil might turn dark brown).
- Add tomatoes and cook for two minutes or until they start to pop.
- Blend in a food processor. Season with salt to taste.
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