We all love the idea of a “secret ingredient”: that one magical dash of something that takes a dish from pretty good to spectacular.
When Rachael oven-roasts potatoes (with the help of EVOO and lots of lemon juice), she uses a secret ingredient to give her taters an addictive crunch: a sprinkle of semolina. (Watch her make her popular Lemon Roast Potatoes in the video above).
You might have seen this golden powder hanging out in the flour aisle of the grocery store...but what exactly is semolina, and when should you be using it?
WHAT IS SEMOLINA?
Semolina is a high-protein flour that’s made from coarsely-ground durum wheat (yes, just like regular flour). It’s also known as “pasta wheat” because it’s often the main ingredient used to make pasta (as in the actual noodles)—it makes a firm pasta dough, and helps the pasta retain its shape during the cooking process.
CAN I SUBSTITUTE ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR FOR SEMOLINA FLOUR?
After watching Rachael make her crunchy lemon potatoes on the show, a lot of fans asked if you can use regular flour as a substitute for semolina in this recipe. The short answer? Yeah, a sprinkle of the all-purpose stuff will up your crunch quotient... but semolina does it better.
IS SEMOLINA FLOUR GLUTEN-FREE?
According to the USDA, it has 120 carbs per cup vs 100 carbs per cup for regular wheat flour, and is actually high in gluten (this is what makes it so great for making chewy, flexible pasta when boiled and adding hearty crunch when baked).
IS SEMOLINA HEALTHY?
As we mentioned, it’s considered a high-protein flour (21 grams of protein per cup vs 16 grams of protein per cup for regular flour, per the USDA) and it also packs higher concentrations of minerals like iron, zinc, potassium and phosphorus.
Potassium helps move nutrients into your cells and helps keep your heartbeat regular, while phosphorus helps the body break down carbs and fats and keeps your kidneys in good shape.
WHAT KIND OF RECIPES CALL FOR SEMOLINA?
In addition to adding extra crunch to roasted root veggies, semolina comes in handy when making pizzas, dumplings, and even fried chicken.
In this video, Rachael and guest chef Christopher Kimball use semolina to dust the pan before baking their thin-crust pizzas. In this case, the semolina keeps the dough from sticking and adds extra crunch to the crust.
Watch NYC chef Missy Robbins show Rachael how to make chicken soup with ricotta dumplings, using semolina as a key dumpling ingredient.
Or check out how chef and “Chopped” judge Marcus Samuelsson includes semolina in the breading for his super-crispy “Fried Yardbird” Chicken. (Speaking of fried chicken, you can also use panko breadcrumbs to up the crunch factor. Here's Jessica Seinfeld’s oven-baked chicken recipe that does just that).