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Deep Frying: Techniques and Tips


JennotJenn
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Deep frying is the one thing in the kitchen at which I am utterly inept. I rarely do it, and when I do the results are less than optimal. Last night I made Balkan Moussaka with Fried Kale Leaves from Paula Wolfert's Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranian. I was a bit apprehensive, since I'm not a big fan of cassaroles to begin with. I got even more nervous once I finished with the frying of the kale. I got the oil up to temperature, and made a good faith effort to maintain that temperature throughout frying. I thought it was going ok until I tried the kale (after draining, of course). It wasn't un-tasty, but it had absorbed a good bit of oil and tasted sort of like kale funnel cake. Not bad, but not something you want to eat a lot of. I went ahead with the cassarole, and true to my intial suspicions, it was not a success. Like funnel cake cassarole, really (the meat mixture was damn tasty, though). We ordered pizza.

I can only assume that I did something wrong in the deep frying. I mean, people eat this stuff. I'm presuming that Paula ate it. And I cannot imagine anyone in their right mind eating what I made last night. It was wrong. Previous attempts at deep frying have given less than desirable results as well. The fact that I live in a small apartment with poor kitchen ventilation doesn't help the situation, either.

Anyway, I must be doing something wrong. Does anyone wish to instruct me in the ways of the deep fryer?

Gourmet Anarchy

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Though this isn't my topic, I'll be glad to take advantage of the wisdom this group can give to Jennot Jenn!

I live in a 500sf (with an inexplicably large walk-in closet; I wish they'd just made it a foot larger on all sides and I could use it as a bedroom) studio, and am faced with a couple problems when it comes to deep frying.

1) My kitchen is sleek and new and pretty, but small. I don't really have a problem with its footprint since I don't have many appliances to clutter things up and the layout is pretty thoughtful, providing plenty of prep surfaces and a sensible flow but everything in it is small. My gas stove is a mini version of the real thing (picture an oven just big enough to properly roast one 3lb chicken and a pan of vegetables on the rack below. A 9x13 lasagna takes up a whole rack), and my burners are very close together. They seem to provide decent power though (big flames, anyway). Is it possible to fry in very small batches in a small amount of oil in a small-ish (3qt?) saucepan? I worry that temperatures would fluctuate too much in such a small amout of oil, even if i was frying, say, three shrimp at a time.

2) Although the place is layed out pretty well, a studio's a studio, and deep frying now would mean going to sleep in a cloud of oil. I have no ventilation system to speak of, but I do have a window in my kitchen very near the stove as well as a larger one further along the wall. Would a fan in the window suffice? Or is this a lost cause altogether.

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I can suggest two possibilities for those with space limitations. If you can afford one of those electric deep friers (DeLonghi and the like) and have the space to store it when it's not in use, it may be a good choice. they eliminate hte splater and do a good job of controlling the temp of the oil. It's difficult to do significant quantities in them but they'll likely come the closest to duplicating what you can do in a commercial kitchen. A better option for most of us is a big, deep and heavy cast iron skillet. Find a splatter screen that will cover it and you'l keep mess at a minimum. heat retention is critical and the cast iron does an amazing job at this - far fewer problems with the temp dropping as you add ingredients.

Last and far from least is the fact that for home frying.... peanut oil is very helpful. It's pricey but if you strain through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer when done cooking and store the leftover oil in the fridge, it can be reused a few times within reason. The biggest challenge I've always had with home frying is maintaining a high temp with the oil - peanut oil gives you a fighting chance of getting the temp high enough and keping it there.

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Good tip about the peanut oil. Are we talking the regular, refined stuff that no longer tastes like peanuts? I have some of the unrefined oil (lovely stuff) that I use for stir fries...but I assume you're talking about the other stuff.

Secondly, I have an electric stove. I've learned how to use the pressure cooker very successfully on it, but not so w/the frying.

Gourmet Anarchy

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I found Russ Parson's How to Read a French Fry a great tutorial for getting over my deep-frying fear.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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Are we talking the regular, refined stuff that no longer tastes like peanuts?

I've never paid attention to the label or the brand - it's whatever they sell in mainstream grocery stores - it must be the "refined" variety as I've never noticed any significant nutty smell or taste. It makes a huge difference because the smoking/burning temp is so much higher.

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I'm sure Paula or someone else familiar with the recipe mentioned here can comment specifically on any tricks related to kale, but just some general thoughts on deep frying:

As Owen indicates, the really big issue separating home from commercial deep frying equipment is heat retention. A commercial fryolator-type device contains a large quantity of fat and has powerful thermostatically controlled heating elements. As a result, when you drop lots of cold stuff into the fat it hardly alters the temperature at all and the rebound is quick. At home, where quantities of fat are an order of magnitude smaller, adding food to the fat can drop the temperature quickly -- and when that happens you get soggy, oil-logged food.

The solutions are all related to the heat equation: fry in very small batches just a few pieces at a time, use as much fat as possible, use a heavy metal vessel that retains heat well, and use a thermometer to monitor temperature carefully.

In terms of the actual fat being used, most commercial operations don't even use oil -- they use various shortenings and frying blends. But for home frying I think good old "vegetable oil" works quite well, and it's much less expensive than peanut.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I have to admit that I cannot deep-fry successfully on an electric stove. I use gas in Japan, but on an electric stove I find it hard to get the batch back up to temperature fast enough. Goes without saying that food (especially meat, which takes a while to warm up) should be at room temperature when frying. I found that out the hard way.

What about "half deep frying" in about 1.5 inches of oil? That's about as much as I would feel confident with on an electric stove.

Also remember the old rule...food should never cover more than half the surface area of the hot oil/fat. That's extra important with an electric stove.

And...deep frying takes practice! Do it often enough, and you'll surely master it.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Wolfert has generously offered her help with the recipe.

In preparation of her walking me through it, I read the frying chapter from How to Read a French Fry. So now I have a question:

What is the best way to break down my oil to the magical "Optimium" stage? I read that loose batter and salt break oil down very quickly, but I'm guessing I don't want to do it that way.

So what do I do? I want something cheap that I won't feel like I'm wasting food (which is why I hestitate to do fries...all that wasted potato).

Gourmet Anarchy

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I'm doing an eGCI unit on deep frying -- it's scheduled for sometime in May. Since you've already started a perfectly titled thread, JennotJenn, maybe you won't mind me hijacking it in order to gather any questions people might have about deep frying.

I can't guarantee to answer every question, but knowing what people are looking for in a tutorial will let me target the material much better.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Wolfert has generously offered her help with the recipe.

In preparation of her walking me through it, I read the frying chapter from How to Read a French Fry. So now I have a question:

What is the best way to break down my oil to the magical "Optimium" stage? I read that loose batter and salt break oil down very quickly, but I'm guessing I don't want to do it that way.

So what do I do? I want something cheap that I won't feel like I'm wasting food (which is why I hestitate to do fries...all that wasted potato).

I can't remember if I read it in Parson's book or somewhere else -- something from Cooks Illustrated, maybe -- but I recall the advice to add a tablespoon of strained bacon fat to fresh oil. My own results have been inconclusive, but it's worth trying.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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I have to admit that I cannot deep-fry successfully on an electric stove. I use gas in Japan, but on an electric stove I find it hard to get the batch back up to temperature fast enough. Goes without saying that food (especially meat, which takes a while to warm up) should be at room temperature when frying. I found that out the hard way.

What about "half deep frying" in about 1.5 inches of oil? That's about as much as I would feel confident with on an electric stove.

Also remember the old rule...food should never cover more than half the surface area of the hot oil/fat. That's extra important with an electric stove.

And...deep frying takes practice! Do it often enough, and you'll surely master it.

I think the opposite would be true, since a large amount of oil would cool off less than a small amount. It's about the mass. 6 pounds of oil would cool off slower than 8 ounces. It would take longer to get to temperature, but would be more stable once it got there.

Think of a pizza stone. A higher mass will absorb more heat and let it out slower.

Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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Different vein but appropriate for this thread.... do any of you strain and save your oil for reuse? Do you refrigerate it? Save specific oils for specific uses? (e.g. chicken frying oil just for chicken, fish oil for fish etc.).

Once very week or so I fry up a green plantain for tostones (knwo to some as platanos). I save the oil and reuse it at room temp many times before discarding - as long is it looks and smells clean.

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Deep frying is the one thing in the kitchen at which I am utterly inept...

You're not inept. You just don't have the right equipment. Ever sit at the counter of a hole in the wall restaurant and have a good view of a proper deep fryer? It's big - the oil is hot - and there's a commercial fire extinguishing system nearby. It is of course possible to duplicate this kind of setup in some home kitchens - but many people (myself included) don't have the time - space - or inclination to do so (not to mention not really wanting to clean up the mess after either). I'd rather go out to get those perfect fried shrimp. Robyn

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  • 5 years later...

ive probably deep fried things in my own kitchen 2, maybe 3 times in my life. if i have a craving for tempura or other snacks, ill just go out. deep frying seems messy, dangerous. and the last time i tried not only was it a total failure but i ended up with this yellow and black film on my pot that was a total bitch to scrub off. i probably wouldnt have been so discouraged by the failure if it wasnt for the scrubbing.

however, i would like to begin deep frying a little, maybe several times a year, on a regular basis.

i use five pots and pans on a regular basis: a 12 inch and an 8 inch non stick skillet, one staub and one le creuset dutch oven and a cheap little no name pan that i use for cooking up ramen, etc. oh. i forgot the large stockpot for veggies and pasta.

i do not want to buy a deep fryer (the kind with baskets). ideally, id like to use maybe the dutch ovens but dont know if they are inappropriate. i already tried it in my no name pan. that is stainless steel and developed the sticky yellow and black film after deep frying.

will i ruin my staub or le creuset if i deep fry in them?

ive thought about getting a lodge type cast iron oven. or skillet with tall sides. seasoning it and maintaining it seems like an adventure, but im up for that. should i get a cast iron dutch oven without enamelling? i read from cooks illustrated that "Fries cooked in one of our cast iron pans tasted rusty; evidently, the preseasoned surface had failed. Cast iron is a great choice for a Dutch oven, because it holds onto heat so well. But cast iron will also react with many foods."

have people had better luck with seasoned unenamelled cast iron?

is there something else i should consider? maybe i wouldnt have gotten that yellow film if i used crisco instead of veg oil. *shrug* i truly am clueless when it comes to deep frying.

i really would like to deep fry on a semi regular basis. help me get started. thanks so much!

"Bibimbap shappdy wappdy wap." - Jinmyo
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For quick frying, I use a cheap wok, a mesh skimmer, and splatter guard. The wok takes less oil, heats up quickly, and cleans easily. I just put all three in the dishwasher. They're so cheap that I don't really concern myself with their longevity.

If I need a more stable temperature for longer frying, I use a 10-1/4" Lodge Logic Deep Skillet. It seems to maintain temperature better than anything else I own (i.e. doesn't drop 100 F when I add food to the hot oil). I use it only for frying, making roux, and for lugging along on camping trips, where it's dedicated to bacon.

I haven't used my Le Crueset or Staub for deep frying, so I don't know on those; but, I'm of the ilk that an ugly pot is a well-used one.

Edited by fooey (log)

Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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For deep frying on the stovetop, I currently use an enameled cast iron pan that looks like this one from Lodge. I like the higher sides which prevent a lot of the splatter.

Prior to getting that pan, I used my Le Crueset dutch oven, and it did not harm the pan.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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Fear not.

Yes, you can use a dutch oven; I used my Le Creuset ovens for frying for years before getting a dedicated deep fryer. The challenge of high-sided dutch ovens is that they don't allow for the evaporation of the moisture released with the same effectiveness as a cast iron skillet or deep fryer, but that doesn't mean that they won't work.

the last time i tried not only was it a total failure but i ended up with this yellow and black film on my pot that was a total bitch to scrub off. i probably wouldnt have been so discouraged by the failure if it wasnt for the scrubbing.

I'm not sure what happened there, but I don't think that the deep frying was to blame. Do you remember what you cooked and with what oil? Did it burn?

i read from cooks illustrated that "Fries cooked in one of our cast iron pans tasted rusty; evidently, the preseasoned surface had failed. Cast iron is a great choice for a Dutch oven, because it holds onto heat so well. But cast iron will also react with many foods."

Cast iron is enameled to prevent reactions with acids, but the implications of that excerpt just seems wrong-headed to me -- and would to generations of cooks who have used cast iron to fry.

Why not start with a small project using your enameled cast iron? Grab some forgiving oil like canola, a thermometer, and start documenting. I'm sure that lots of us here will be happy to help out!

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Of what you have, I'd use a dutch oven. Don't fill it more than halfway with oil, and you'll contain more of the spattering and prevent overflows. A deep fry thermometer helps, and be sure to immerse as much of the probe in the oil as possible to get an accurate reading--it may require tipping the pot. Depending on what you're deep frying, you can use a skimmer, wok skimmer, fry basket, slotted spoon, or tongs to remove things from the oil. When using tongs for deep frying, be careful always to point the tongs with the working end downward, or you'll have hot oil dripping down your arm.

Also, in case it's not obvious, never leave a pan of hot oil on the fire unattended. I've never had an uncontrolled kitchen fire, but I think every unplanned flare up I've had has involved deep frying.

You can find fry baskets that fit perfectly in a saucepan with sloped sides. A basket like this and a matching aluminum saucepan shouldn't be too costly from a restaurant supply, if you want to designate a pot for deep frying.

Also, I agree with Chris that you shouldn't have a problem deep frying in cast iron. Perhaps Cooks Illustrated was just using a new pot that hadn't been thoroughly cleaned and properly seasoned. I'm dubious of "preseasoning" as a concept.

If you're left with something hard to clean, try Easy-Off or another lye-based oven cleaner. It's very effective at removing hard black baked-on grease without requiring much physical effort.

Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)
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Deep frying in plain cast iron can cause oxidation of some fats, which results in carcinogenic substances associated with rancidity. (remember, oil can be rancid and have no odor) This isn't a problem with some saturated fats, but, most people don't deep fry in pure lard anymore, either. Alton Brown covers this in an episode of Good Eats. The enamel-ware is the way to go. Remember, always use a pan with high sides and a thermometer.

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thank you all!

ill try with the dutch ovens i already have.

i was frying nori in the cheap stainless steel ramen pot and i used canola oil. i did not burn the nori but i still got the yellow/black sticky layer. i did try easy off 3 times on 3 separate occasions but it never completely came off, either on the inside or on the outside. after half a year of scrubbing whenever i use the pot, the black stuff is only now beginning to come off.

i didnt want to ruin my other pots, but i think i will used the enamelled pots without fear.

thanks again everyone!

"Bibimbap shappdy wappdy wap." - Jinmyo
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Hi, melonpan. My deep-frying rig is a black-finished cast iron pot/dutch oven (it has a matching lid). I keep oil in it and use it only for deep-frying.

This pot was originally a present, but we found that for stews, the black finish dissolved in the food - beef in red wine came back an ominous grey-maroon; even a straight beef & veggie number turned darkly ugly. For years this thing sat in cupboards; a couple of years back I got it out & attacked it on the inside with wet-and-dry or something of that sort - but the surface is kinda rough. In the end I thought it could earn its keep as deep-fryer and oil-storage, both.

There'll always be splash on the inside of the pan, and always the odd oil-run down the outside - like you, I found that even with very little deep-frying, a bright-metal pot will soon get pretty claggy. The black-finish cast iron disguises this nicely.

Cast iron isn't the best of conductors, but in deep frying you don't worry so much about an even heat over the base of the pan. As others have said, cast iron holds a lot of heat and so resists temperature drop when you immerse the food. The downside for me, is that it's hard to control the temperature. You can heat that sucker up till the oil's at 180C, but if you turn down the flame at that point it'll keep on getting hotter for several minutes. This you can learn how to handle. What's more difficult is getting a hang of gas adjustments for the different temperature drop of different foods and different volumes of food. That said, I don't want to throw out something with sentimental value, and my cast iron and I soldier on together. By now I have some feel for the constant flame needed to maintain temp, and I co-ordinate the 'heat overrun' with dropping the food in. I use one of those shabu-shabu foam skimmers both to move & remove food, and to clean up leftover crumbs. The flat pot lid makes a handy rest for it, turned over on the work surface by the stove.

Given a blank slate, my ideal would be:

A dedicated electric deep fryer, and the counter space for it - not like the 1100W (or was it 800?) Twinbird a friend bought - it barely had the oomph to heat up the oil, far less fry anything. On the other hand, a good deep fryer has the convenience of a resting position for the basket above the oil, and it's the only ready-made or easily-improvised solution that'll give you protection in the unlikely event that an earthquake coincides in your home with a vat of hot oil.

A dedicated deep pot and a basket that'll fit - use a deep pot and a shallower basket, so that the extra oil below the basket is your heat reservoir. This is what I recommended to my friend. At Mitaka J-Mart we found separately a deep 24cm aluminium pot, and a basket with a rim that nestled exactly on top of the pot rim. Single disadvantage - the basket handle doesn't fold for storage. Total cost was about 3,000yen or 4,000yen.

Are you actually in Japan ? The final option would be one of those containers you can buy here specifically for storing oil, and one of your existing pots. That oil-glaze may be ugly, but I'd argue it's not killing anyone, and second Fooey on "ugly pot ? So what ?".

Edited by Blether (log)

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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The sticky residue was polymerized oil, and it is indeed a pain (or nearly impossible) to scrub off. The ideal vessel for deep-frying on the stovetop is a pot called a "chicken fryer" (here's an example on Amazon). It's slightly wider than it is deep, around 5 or 6 quarts to allow for the fat to bubble up, and it always comes with a lid (in case you need to smother a grease fire, or if you want to keep the oil on the stovetop in said pot). Aluminum chicken fryers are pretty cheap ($40 or so), and many come with a lifting basket; worth buying, imho, even if you're frying just a few times a year. You won't feel compelled to scrub off the polymerized oil if it's on your frying pot.

On to the oil: I would never, ever use canola for deep frying, as it very quickly develops an off-putting odor, esp at higher temps. My fryin' oil of choice is peanut. It's pretty stable, even at high temps. Some claim that a peanutty flavor can be detected, but I've never perceived it (in either the fresh oil, the fried foods, or the older, reused oil). Lard is a fine thing, but it is hard to find good lard unless you render it yourself. (or try this old trick: deep-fry a slice of bacon in your vegetable oil to get the delicious porky flavor without the saturated fat).

A good vented exhaust hood is probably the most important part of home frying!

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