“Crusted,” “Crispy”—What Do Those Menu Terms Really Mean?

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, Food and Nutrition
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Recently, a colleague ordered “crispy fish” in a restaurant and was surprised when the fish arrived at her table coated in bread and deep-fried. She wisely sent it back and ordered something else, but it reminded me that she’s not the only one who has been confused by the terms on a restaurant menu. So, I thought I would give you a “cheat sheet” to what those menu terms really mean.

Foods to avoid:

Crispy: As my colleague found with the fish she ordered, crispy is another term for deep-fried and filled with unhealthy fat.

Crusted: Whether it’s on fish, chicken, or even beef, crusted means the food was coated with bread crumbs or nuts—which can send the fat, and calorie, count soaring.

Au Gratin: Foods cooked “au gratin” are covered in browned breadcrumbs, and often cheese—adding both fat and calories.

Topped with White Sauce: This high-fat sauce is made with milk, butter, and flour. Ask for a bit of olive oil or tomato sauce instead.

Béarnaise: This French sauce, which is made with butter, egg yolks, and wine, is extremely high in fat.

What to order instead:

Roasted: Roasted normally means oven cooked and is usually a good choice. Many restaurants serve roasted chicken, plus grocery stores often have roasted chickens you can pick up for an easy, quick meal. Be sure to remove the skin first. Plus, remember many roasted chickens are high in sodium which is used as a preservative. So, if you have high blood pressure or congestive heart failure limit yourself to less than two to three ounces per serving.

Grilled: Foods cooked on the grill are a good choice, but you do want to watch the sodium. Some grilled chicken can be extremely high in salt.

Baked: What I like about baking is baked foods are often cooked in their own juices which keep them tender and moist. As long as the food isn’t loaded with cheese or a heavy cream sauce, “baked” or “oven baked” is often a good menu choice.

Sautéed: This means the food was stir-fried in a pan with a small amount of oil and is usually an excellent choice. But you want to ask if additional oil or butter is added to the dish, which can jack up the calories and fat. Instead, you can ask the restaurant to add garlic or other spices to flavor your dish. 

Also, hopefully the chef is using small amounts of olive oil, grapeseed, or walnut oils. As you know, I’m not a big fan of canola, soybean, or corn oils which many restaurants use. It doesn’t hurt to ask the server what kind of oil the chef is using. I’ve done it.

Steamed: A wonderful cooking technique, steaming is extremely healthy. But as with sautéed foods, you want to ask if butter or oil is being added to the dish. A drizzle of olive oil is fine, but you want to make sure your meal isn’t doused in it.


Now it’s your turn: What do you usually order in a restaurant?

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