Sunday, March 25, 2018

How to fry things

I got feedback on a post and so you get more of that kind of post!  Enbrethiliel said she likes when I post recipes, so I'm going to talk about how I got brave enough to learn to deep fry, and at the end I'm going to share the recipe for the battered fish I made the other night.

For years, I never attempted to fry anything, because I was afraid I would set my kitchen on fire.  And then I did try to fry things and it turned out bad, so I quit.  My usual M.O. with trying new things is to assume that all the rules and tools are unnecessary and I can just experiment.  This approach works well with gardening, but with frying there are definitely some rules it's helpful to know.

If you don't want to make nasty food, spatter your kitchen in grease, or set your kitchen on fire, follow these simple rules:

1.  Use purchased oil for frying.  Meat drippings are not sufficient and will scorch and spatter.  So will butter or olive oil.  Peanut oil is my oil of choice, but shortening is said to be good too.  I've tried both soybean and corn oil and didn't like the taste, but they won't result in disaster and they're both cheap.

2.  Use a heavy, deep pan.  A cast-iron skillet is deep enough, but a dutch oven will spatter less and is a better choice.  You don't need a deep fryer to deep fry.  You just need a pan.

3.  Don't move a hot pan full of oil, or pour oil into a wet pan.  Start with a dry, cold pan on a cold burner, turn the burner on, and add the oil.  Turn the burner off and allow the oil to cool before you move it.   A pan of oil is heavy, and if your arm twitches or trembles, you'll spill scalding oil everywhere and may start a fire.

4.  Have a thermometer and use it.  Most frying is done between 300 and 400 degrees.  At this temperature there isn't usually any wild splattering, and any splatters that do hit you won't be terribly painful.  If you don't have a thermometer, it's way too easy to let the oil overheat.  Or if the oil is too cool, it soaks into the food and makes it nasty.  Spend the $10 or so and get a food thermometer.

5.  Know how to deal with a grease fire.  Never throw water on a grease fire.  Keep a lid handy to smother a fire that starts in the pan.  I hear you're also supposed to keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.  I've never ever had a fire start when I was frying anything, but better to be prepared.

6.  Keep kids out from underfoot.  I know, easier said than done, right?  But if they're likely to grab pans or careen through the kitchen, wait till a time when you have backup.

7.  Always fry food that is as dry as you can make it.  Battered food, of course, is a bit wet from the batter, and potatoes have a little dampness, but don't just throw in freshly washed veggies or anything.  Oil splatters aren't caused by hot oil; they are caused by water boiling under the hot oil.

8.  Stay in the kitchen while you're frying.  Things happen pretty fast.  That doesn't mean a fried meal takes less time than a baked or boiled one -- it's about the same, just because you will have to do many 5-minute batches.

All right, so you're ready to fry!  The easiest things to fry are things that don't require breading: steak fries, for instance, or potato chips.  Make sure your pan is dry and pour in oil just deep enough to submerge the food.  ("Deep" doesn't mean all that deep.  An inch or two is adequate.)  Start heating it up - medium high is good, but once it gets to temperature, you may want to turn it down a bit.  Go prepare the food -- chop the potatoes, batter the fish, bread the chicken.  It'll take a bit to heat the oil, so that's why you do that first.  Pause now and again to check your oil, and turn it down if it gets too hot.  375 is about right for most things, unless you're frying very large pieces.

Once it's hot enough and the food is ready, carefully drop it into the oil.  I tend to get nervous and want to keep my fingers far from the oil, but if you drop it in from a height, you'll get a splash.  If you lower it carefully into the oil, you're unlikely to get splattered.  But you can always use tongs or a slotted spoon if you're nervous.

Never overcrowd the pan.  There should be room for the food to move around a bit.  Better to do many batches than to eat food that didn't turn out.  Check the thermometer again.  The temperature of the pan lowers a good bit when you've put food into it, especially if the food is cool, so you may need to crank the burner up a bit.

Most food is fried within a few minutes, so stay right there while it cooks. Some things may need to be flipped over if they tend to float a bit.  Watch the food more than the clock.  If you're following a recipe, the temperature and size of the food is calibrated so that when it's brown on the outside, it's done on the inside.  If not, you'll just have to cut open some of the first pieces and make sure they're done inside.  When you find raw middles and dark outsides, that tells you your oil is too hot and you should go down to 350 or so. 

When you take the food out, it's best to put it on a rack, if you have one, with a tray below to catch oil drips.  If not, a plate lined with several paper towels will do.  If the food is going to be salted or sprinkled with sugar, do it right away, while your oil is getting back to temperature.  Then you can do the next batch.

Once it's all done, shut off the heat but leave the pan in place so you don't spill it.  Serve the food right away.  If the oil is pretty clean (i.e. it doesn't have lots of blackened crumbs in it or anything) you can use it again for another purpose.  If it's nasty and full of burned bits, pour it into an old can when it's cool and freeze it before throwing away -- it's less messy that way.  Never pour it down the drain. 

Leftovers of fried food usually isn't good. You know how it is.  Even a professionally-fried french fry is nasty by the time it's cold.  So eat what you can while it's hot.

Frying sounds intimidating, but once you get the hang of it, it's not hard.  You just have to be able to give it your full attention while it's cooking.  It also does tend to get you hot and sweaty and the kitchen smelling of grease.  So it's not something I like to do more than about weekly.  But, since frying isn't the world's healthiest method, it's just as well.  It's nice for a special occasion or to make an ordinary day special.

So without further ado, here's the battered fish recipe I made last Friday!

Battered Fish (Without Beer)

4 pollock fillets (any fish will do)
3/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Old Bay (feel free to sub your favorite seasonings)
1 cup water

Heat your oil to 375 degrees F.  Make sure the fish is thoroughly defrosted and dry it with paper towels.  Cut it into serving-size pieces -- about the size of your palm.  A little sprinkle of flour also helps dry it off so the batter will stick.  Then mix the batter ingredients together.  Dip the fish in the batter a few times, trying to get it all over.  You only need the batter to stick long enough to get into the oil -- it cooks fast.  Carefully lower the fish into the oil with your fingers or with tongs.  Try not to let the fish pieces touch each other, or they'll glue together.  My pan fits about four pieces per batch -- you'll likely need to do several batches.

Fry the fish 3-5 minutes -- until it's golden brown.  Remove it from the oil with tongs or a slotted spoon.  Let cool a bit on a rack or paper towels while the rest of the fish cooks.  Serve as soon as it's all cooked, with tartar sauce, ketchup, or malt vinegar.

The same batter can be used with other things.  I had some left so I sliced up some onion rings and battered those.  They were delicious -- the batter was light and delicate and crisp.  Definitely will make again.

Once you've got the hang of frying, the sky is the limit.  Fish 'n' chips?  Fried chicken?  Falafel?  Potato chips?  Tempura vegetables?  Doughnuts?  Deep-fried Oreos?  Whatever you want to do!  Fried food is delicious and you don't have to stick with only the offerings fast food restaurants have.

Do you fry?  What's your favorite thing to fry?


Sugar Coater said...

I also enjoy your recipe and cooking posts. Whenever I fry (not very often) it's usually breaded pork cutlets, or breaded eggplant for eggplant parmigiana. I don't do it unless the kitchen needs a good cleaning, because if you do this in a clean kitchen, you get to clean it all over again, especially your range and backsplash! I'm also glad you said to freeze the used grease and to never pour it down the drain. Like your simple batter recipe, too, nothing worse than heavy batter. It just detracts from the flavor of the food. Have a good day!

Sheila said...

Yes, the stove gets very greasy after I've fried anything!

Cristina said...

Lumpia! Or as the Internet translates the word: Fried spring rolls!

I experiment when I make them, too. (I've grown very fond of using cabbage, as in Japanese gyoza.) In fact, I experiment so much that I'd probably have to look up the traditional ingredients if my family begged for "normal" lumpia. (For the record, they eat up everything I make; they just never request it again later. You win some, you lose some.) On the other hand, every region has its own version of this roll, so I have hope that one of my experiments will become really popular among my neighbors someday and put our village on the foodie tour map.

A few years ago, I was telling another American friend about lumpia and she really wanted to try making her own . . . but she was nervous about the raw ground pork. She wasn't sure that it would get cooked properly on the inside of the wrapper. That has never been a problem for me . . . but I'm an experienced fryer. So I just told her the food police wouldn't come knocking if she wanted to start with cooked ground pork. But the memory, dredged up by your own observation, Sheila, that "when it's brown on the outside, it's done on the inside," makes me curious about your own experiences. Are spring rolls part of your own frying repertoire?

etteloc said...

Donuts. Mmm.

I've also gotten good at fried and breaded tempeh.

Sheila said...

I haven't made lumpia, though I've eaten them. A general rule of thumb would be to have someone teach you (or find a recipe to explain) how big to make them and how hot to make the oil. If your friend's lumpia are the size of yours, and her oil is the same temperature, they will cook the same speed. Making very large items with raw meat inside is generally a bad idea, but I do make fried chicken in large pieces -- I just use a lower temperature, about 325, so it has time to cook on the inside before burning.

If I were her, I'd pull out one when she thinks they're done and cut it open. If it's done, they're all done, and the next batch will look the same when they are done. Or of course she could poke with a thermometer. Pork is done at 165F.

Etteloc, I've never had fried tempeh! Sounds like something I'd like to try sometime!

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