How To Fearlessly Deep Fry Just About Anything

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.

Equip Yourself

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.


Comments

    Frying isn't really about fats so much as it is about carcinogens. All oils once heated can become highly carciongenic (even "good oils" like olive - the most stable is coconut but for frying it's the same result), and this factor only increases each time it's heated.

    Some good tips there though, and you seem to recommend using fresh oil every time which is good to avoid it going rancid, though most oils when you actually buy them are rancid to some degree anyway unless you're buying them from an artisan oil maker heh.

      (RE: carcinogens) This sounds like FUDdy urban legend to me... any citations?

        Er, you think thermal degredation is an urban legend? :P There are literally over 2 million references on google, many from quite reputable sources. I can't find the main one I usually reference at the moment as I'm at work - however here's a pretty decent guide:

        http://theconsciouslife.com/omega-3-6-9-ratio-cooking-oils.htm

        Many references will say it's "safe" until a certain temperature - this temperature if you cross check it with the table above will usually be anything above the smoke point, so they basically mean it won't catch fire, nothing to do with oxidation/rancidity.

        Light is actually the biggest cause of oil oxidization, which is why the more expensive oils will pretty much always be in darker containers that recommend storing out of direct sunlight. Most cheap oils are rancid to some degree or another, and infact there is a whole industry around this - producing fragrances (perfumes of sorts) for adding to cheap oils, to make them smell like they are fresh.

          Is this the reason why fast food joints like chicken treat or red rooster sometimes go through a month or two of all their chips tasting like nail polish remover mixed with urine? Their oil is rancid?

            I believe that's more commonly because each fryer in a a fast food store is meant to be for one type of food to avoid cross contamination - but when teenagers are running things this rarely happens and you end up with say, chicken being cooked in the same fryer that's just had 2 weeks of fish put through it. Not good, not good.

            They do usually change it pretty regularly though, once a week or so - however it's the cheapest kind of oil so as I say, in theory it's at least partially rancid before they even get it, though its more thermally stable when in large amounts, and in a light proof drum as opposed to a plastic bottle.

    Deep fryers like most electronics these days are cheap from about $40 and they take all the quess work out with accurate temps and thermoostats and timers,alarms etc.
    They also are safer and easier to clean.However the ability to have a quick snack of dim sims and chips in 5 minutes with practicly no effort may not be good for your waistline.

      The thing with deep friers is they are an excuse for people to be lazy/cheap. I know every time i've owned one, i've made the oil last up to 2 months - sometimes being used every day. You can't really tell how fresh it is except that it's a bit thicker than usual until heated. Disgusting I know, but I'm sure most people are the same.

    Two things:

    1. Temperature-controlled deep fryers holding 3-4 litres of oil are cheap as... chips (sorry). Much easier than using other pans and reduces the risk of accidents involving open flames.

    2. Try and keep your oil clean by decanting off the good stuff (for reuse) and bin the solids. That way you'll keep your oil relatively fresh and free of 'old oil' smells/flavours for as long as possible.

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