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This is the second half of a two-part article about deep-frying. Last week we reviewed the nature and basic considerations for deep-frying. As previously discussed, deep-frying is not as fattening as you'd think. The most important point, which can’t be stressed enough, is to ensure the oil is hot enough. This is what prevents the food from absorbing excess oil and becoming greasy. We now peruse the types of foods and oils utilized in deep-frying.
Foods appropriate for deep-frying are inevitably tender, usually smaller or thinner items that cook relatively quickly, and take well to dry-heat methods. Chicken, fish, and vegetables are the textbook choices. Despite the fluidity of the oil, deep frying is not a wet-heat cooking method, such as simmering or boiling, since there is no exchange or absorption of flavor with the fluid medium. Moreover, wet-heat methods cannot exceed the boiling point of water, i.e., 212 degrees, while oil can reach much higher temperatures. The higher temperature is what browns the food, much like sautéing, roasting, broiling, or other popular dry-heat methods. Because the food is engulfed by the oil, large pieces of food, like a roast, are not deep-fried since the exterior would be obliterated by the time is center is cooked. As soon as the food is cooked remove it, place it on paper towels to further decrease oil absorption and season it immediately. If you have added a series of foods, endeavor to remove them in order, so the first ones aren’t overcooked by the time the last ones are done.
When deep-frying a number of different foods, try to save the ones that will sully the oil most for the end. For example, if you were making homemade corn chips and a batch of fritters composed of a goopy batter, fry the chips first and then the fritters. All fried foods leave residual particles in the oil. The dirtier the oil the more it can impart off flavors onto ensuing foods. Moreover, oils have what’s known as a "smoke point." This is the temperature at which a particular oil starts to smoke, break down, and eventually could ignite. The more errant food particles in the oil, the quicker the smoke point is reached. This brings us to the issue of re-using oil. Frying a few different foods in one cooking session is usually not an issue. But to reuse that oil on another day is not the best course of action. If you must do so it is strongly recommended that you filter that oil thoroughly through several layers of fine cheesecloth. Again, remaining particulates in the oil produce unwanted flavors, lower the oil's smoke point, and cause the oil to go rancid sooner. I like to avoid all these problems and start with fresh oil at the onset of a new cooking session.
Peanut, corn, canola, vegetable, safflower, soybean and sunflower oils are all good choices for deep-frying. I would avoid olive oil for a number of reasons. Olive oil is usually more expensive and its delicate flavors would be lost in the deep-frying process. Olive oil also has a lower smoke point than many of the other vegetable based oils.
Foods to be deep-fried are usually coated with either a batter or a breading of some sort. The purpose of these coatings is to add flavor, texture, and protect the food from direct contact with the hot oil. For breading, the “standard breading procedure” as it is known amongst culinary professionals, involves dipping the food in flour, then beaten eggs, and finally bread crumbs. However, there are many other breading permutations. Various types of flours can be used as well as cornstarch or cornmeal. Other fluid mediums can replace the eggs such as milk, buttermilk, honey, and slurries, (a mixture of water and a starch such as cornstarch, potato starch, tapioca starch, etc.). Finally, instead of breadcrumbs, there exists a seemingly endless array of options: cracker meal, crushed Ritz crackers, matzo meal, cookie crumbs, cake crumbs, crushed cereals, etc. But even if you’d like to stick with breadcrumbs there are alternatives. Panko breadcrumbs are a good choice. These Japanese breadcrumbs are larger and coarser and produce a delightfully crunchy exterior. Regardless of the base ingredients of the breading, diversity can be further increased by blending all kinds of other seasonings in with the breading such as: herbs, spices, cheese, grated onion, garlic, ginger, or other aromatic vegetables.
Batters are wet coatings designed to be applied to food immediately before cooking. Inevitably they consist of some mixture of fluid and starch. Milk, buttermilk, water, seltzer, and beer are some of the most common liquids. Effervescent fluids like seltzer and beer impart a pleasant airiness to the batter. All kinds of flours and starches can serve as the starch. Eggs, seasonings, sour cream, grated cheese, and baking soda and/or powder, are just some of the items added to batters to augment their flavor, texture, or leavening capacity. Tempura is a classic batter composed of water, flour and eggs.
Deep-frying is a delicious cooking method with a dazzling array of choices. When performed correctly there is minimal absorption of the oil, thus mitigating excessive fears regarding fat consumption, not to mention the fact that vegetable based oils have been shown to have positive health benefits. As always, transcending our ignorance and paranoia opens up new culinary doors, expands our gastronomic horizons, and ultimately allows greater enjoyment from the simple act of eating. This is the deeper issue in deep-frying.