Though it’s hard to argue with the deliciousness of fried cheese, not all versions achieve that perfect ratio of gooey, melty, and crispy. This homemade mozzarella sticks recipe nails the crunchy-creamy texture and cheesy-herby flavor (complemented by a spicy marinara dipping sauce, of course)—all without being greasy to boot. How do we do it?

For starters, we say skip the packaged string cheese sticks and go straight for a block of low-moisture mozzarella cheese. Cutting your own cheese sticks to size gives you the control you want. We also won’t negotiate on the composition of the crispy panko bread crumb coating, which should not be subbed for a pre-seasoned fine bread crumb mixture; the crispy factor will suffer. And while an abundance of dried herbs is essential (it’s mild mozz we’re talking about; herbs bring the flavor!) we won’t quibble if you don’t add every single one. Simply compensate by using more of another—or use a store-bought Italian seasoning blend if you must. Notice, too, that each and every mozzarella cheese stick gets a double coating of flour, egg, and panko. It offers maximum crunch and structure to really stand up to frying.

You don’t need a deep fryer or air fryer here, but a deep-fry thermometer is key to keeping the hot oil at the right temperature (skip the olive oil and use canola or other vegetable oil). Paper towels keep the fried mozzarella sticks from sogging out, so don’t skip that step.

Short on time? Swap the homemade marinara for a jar of good store-bought sauce or, for something different, try a drizzle of honey and a few cracks of black pepper or even some tahini-ranch dressing instead.

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