Last week in a comment about the almond crusted shrimp balls, Candice remarked that she refrained from deep-frying because she didn’t know what to do with the leftover oil. That led me to assemble these tips to help you deep-fry. I’ve been deep-frying since I was young, when my mom gave me the task of frying chicken for our family dinner. I’ve had many successes and mishaps over the years. (If you deep-fry squid, remember to make sure it’s super dry before it hits the oil.)
So if the thought of deep-frying puts you off or sends shivers down your spine, I hope these tips will persuade you to go out and buy yourself a bottle of oil and fry up something delectable.
Addressing common concerns about deep-frying:
- Is deep-frying is fattening? Well, it’s not like eating boiled food. It’s not spa or diet food. That said, if deep-frying is done well, it’s not terribly greasy. I’m often surprised by how little oil gets absorbed during deep-frying. Of course, that add depends on what’s being deep-fried. Also, old oil that’s degraded too muchcan sometimes cause lead-like deep-fried food. As my friend Diane, a nurse, once told me, “It’s not what you eat once in a while, it’s what you eat everyday that really affects your health.” So a live a little.
- What do you with all that oil after deep-frying? Recycle it. After you’re done frying, let the oil cool completely, then strain it through a fine-mesh sieve. If the oil is cloudy or contains lots of unsavory bits, line the strainer with paper towel or cheesecloth. Transfer the oil to a clean, dry jar or plastic bottle, cap tightly, and store in a cool, dry place. In general, I don’t reuse oil once it has turned super brown (as opposed to its golden color when new) or if it has picked up funky odors from frying foods such as oily fish like salmon. If you fry fish, use recycled oil and dispose of it afterward. Store spent oil in a separate container. Don't put it down the drain.
- Deep-frying makes the house smell. You betcha. To deal with the smell of frying, which perfumes a room but can linger for a spell, run the exhaust while frying and open windows. I sometimes carefully take the pot of hot oil outside and let it cool in the open air. Burn a stick of incense. You can also do like my mother and fry outside.
- It’s too messy to deep-fry. Put a few sheets of newspaper on the floor if you are worried about dirtying the kitchen. During or after frying, quickly wipe the stove and counter clean to prevent grease buildup. Wear an apron.
Some more technical tips to fry by:
- What kind of oil to use for deep-frying? There are many choices but I’ve been fine with canola oil, purchased by the 1.25-gallon containers from Costco. On occasion canola smells a little weird as it heats up, but I haven’t noticed it affecting the flavor of my food. Grape seed and semi-refined peanut oil are great for deep-frying as they’re a touch lighter, but they are costly. By the way, the only time I was at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, I got to go into the kitchen. What does a Michelin 3-star restaurant fry in? Canola oil, I was told.
- Don’t be shy about using oil. It may seem like a gross amount but you are deep-frying, not searing. Pour enough oil into the pan as called for in the recipe. A recipe will typically tell you by depth, that is “pour oil into a pan to a depth of X.” Measure with a chopstick. If you’re short of oil, fry in a medium saucepan rather than a larger pot. It will take more time but use less oil.
- What to fry in? It depends on what you’re frying and how much. Restaurants have deep-fryers the size of a kitchen sink! For us regular folks, how about a saucepan, 5-quart Dutch oven, deep skillet, or wok? I love deep-frying in a wok because its concave shape requires less oil and heats up in a jiffy.
- How do you know when the oil is hot enough? The key to successful deep-frying is getting the oil to the proper temperature and keeping it there. The easiest way to achieve that is to buy a clip-on deep-frying thermometer (same as a candy thermometer). Position the tip of thermometer just above the bottom of the pan so you are measuring the heat of the oil and not the metal. When you feel more comfortable with deep-frying, try using a bamboo chopstick to gauge the temperature. Stick a dry on into the oil and if bubble rise immediate to the surface, the oil is roughly about 350F (175C). If you want hotter heat, use a thermometer to be sure. Rectangular clip-on thermometers are my favorite.
- Get organized before you begin frying. Put the food on one side of the stove and the setup for draining the crispy results on the other side. Keep utensils such as a wire skimmer, chopsticks, or tongs nearby.
- Don’t let the oil overheat and smoke. If it does, carefully move the pan to another burner. After the smoke dissipates, reheat the oil and continue frying.
- Test fry one or two pieces of food when trying out a new recipe. A practice run is great for testing the oil temperature and getting used to the timing and frying process.
- Fry in batches to avoid lowering the oil temperature. Always let the oil return to the appropriate temperature, (regulating the heat as necessary,) before adding the next batch.
- To refresh and restore a fresh-from-the-fryer crispness, refry a second time. When planning a second refrying, fry again right before serving. Slightly under fry the first time to avoid over browning on the second frying. In general, refry using slightly higher heat than used for the first frying.
One last thing . . . I so enjoy deep-fried food but the older I get, the more I realize that I shouldn’t (can’t) eat as much of it as I used to. Looking back at all the restaurant French fries and pieces salt-and-pepper squid that I’ve eaten, only a fraction of them have been stellar. I had better luck when I did it myself. Plus, it’s extra fun and gratifying to stand at the stove sipping champagne and frying onion rings, a perfect way to pick yourself up on a Monday or launch the weekend on a Friday. Something to ponder and perhaps look forward to.Feel free to share deep-frying tips or experiences (good or bad)!