The satisfaction of biting into a piece of perfectly crispy fried chicken is matched only by some cooks' fear of deep frying. After all, it requires a large pot of hot, bubbling oil sitting on your stove, ready to dole out third degree burns, or soggy chicken (or both!) at will. By monitoring the temperature of your oil and following a few easy guidelines, however, you too can fry chicken -- or green beans, or fritters -- at home with confidence and ease.
Images via Food52
Listen Up: Fried Foods May Not Be As Terrible As You Think
Yes, frying adds fat to your food. But it doesn't add as much as you would expect. Cook's Illustrated conducted a test where they fried chicken in 3 cups of oil, and then poured off almost 3 cups of oil after all the chicken was cooked -- meaning that very little was actually absorbed by the chicken itself. As long as you're keeping your oil hot enough -- high heat ensures that the water in your food will boil, evaporate, and keep oil from seeping in -- your food won't get overly soggy or greasy.
Choose Your Oil Wisely
Neutral oil is best for frying, because it won't impart its flavour on whatever you drop into it. Refined peanut oil is preferred by many master fryers for its neutral taste, high smoke point, and low levels of saturated fats. Canola oil is another good option -- you can even use olive oil if you're cooking at a low enough temperature. Intrigued? Check out our post on oils and their varying smoke points for more information.
Solid fats, namely lard, are lauded by some for their ability to produce the perfect crisp fried chicken -- see Pete Wells' treatise on rendered pig fat -- but procuring enough lard to fill a large pot may require buying your own farm. We'll leave the decision up to you.
Success in the kitchen means arming yourself with the right tools, and frying is no different. A heavy-bottomed pot or deep sauté pan is the most traditional choice, but Serious Eats has discovered that woks make great vessels for deep frying, too. To make sure you're frying your oil at the right temperature, a clip-on thermometer is your best bet.
Don't have a thermometer? No problem. Oil that's ready for frying will bubble around the stick end of a wooden spoon when it's inserted. Alternatively, a piece of dried popcorn will pop in hot oil somewhere between 160 and 180 degrees Celsius -- and will give you something to snack on while you cook.
Get Your Temperature Just Right
Once you add food to your hot oil, the temperature will drop -- therefore, you'll want to get it hot before cooking. Recipes may vary, but you'll want to preheat your oil to somewhere between 160 and 190 degrees C. During cooking, you should aim to keep it between 120 and 160 degrees. Keeping your oil hot enough -- but not too hot -- will ensure crispy, golden, never-soggy results.
If your oil begins to smoke, you know it's too hot. This can impart bad flavour on your food, so if you see smoke, remove your pan from the heat carefully.
Beware of Crowding
Frying in large batches will cause the temperature of your oil to drop too low, resulting in a less crispy (and, therefore, less delicious) finished product. Fry in small batches, and be sure to stir while cooking -- this will fry your food more evenly. Frozen food should be cooked in very small batches in order to keep cooking temperatures level. Between batches, keep your oil clean by scooping out any pieces of food left behind.
Don't Forget To Drain And Season
Once your food is done, drain on a paper towel-lined plate; this will absorb more oil than draining it on a wire rack. And be sure to season your food immediately -- after all, what is fried food without salt?
Steer Clear Of The Burns Unit
One of the biggest deterrents to deep frying is the fear of hot oil splashing all over your kitchen and your self. Armed with confidence and a few tips up your sleeve, you can keep your skin intact and your food crispy. While it's tempting to throw your food into the pot from afar to maximise the distance between yourself and the bubbling oil, this will actually increase the likelihood of splashing. Food dropped in from a short distance -- either by a fearless hand close to the oil's surface or a slotted spoon or bamboo strainer -- won't cause as much of a disturbance.
Dispose of Your Oil Properly
Don't want to pour hot oil down the sink? (You shouldn't.) Save your oil bottles, let your oil cool after you're done cooking, and pour it back into the bottles with a funnel. Seal them tightly and toss them in the trash.
...Or Don't Toss Them
If you're looking to conserve money and oil, you can safely store used oil for a few weeks after its first use. Be sure to strain out any lingering pieces of food -- a fine mesh strainer is great for this. To keep your oil from smelling stale or fishy, keep it in as dark and cold a place as you can find. Cook's Illustrated suggests keeping your used oil in a very dark, very cold freezer for up to two months.
Ready to get frying? Try you hand with these recipes from Food52:
Deep Frying Without Fear [Food52]
Marian Bull is an editor at Food52. She takes any chance she gets to travel, explore, and eat. Coffee is the most anticipated part of her day. She expresses affection by feeding people. And she loves vegetables, especially chocolate.