Deep frying is a dry-heat cooking method that yields foods that have a crunchy golden brown surface and tender interior. Learn how to deep fry, choosing the right oil, and the benefits of using this technique.
Nothing is more satisfying than the taste and sound of biting into a crispy piece of fried chicken or vegetable egg rolls. Deep frying gives that beautiful color and crunchy surface texture. First off, don’t be intimidated by the process, it’s an easy cooking method to master. Once you understand the proper techniques, the results will be mouthwatering.
Let’s dive right into what it is, how to do it, the benefits, and essential things to consider when deep frying foods.
What is Deep Frying?
Deep-frying is a dry-heat cooking method, utilizing fat or oil to cook pieces of food. The process works by completely submerging food in hot liquid. Depending on the type of oil chosen and food being fried, a high temperature of up to 400°F (204°C) is maintained to create golden-brown surface textures in a short amount of time.
When food hits the hot oil you’ll see bubbles circulating around the item. The moisture from the surface of the food rapidly turns into steam, allowing the process of crust formation to begin. Typically the food being fried is starchy or coated first with a breading or batter. The starches on the surface eventually dry, creating a crispy crust. Some oil may migrate inwards when moisture moves out, but it mostly sticks on to the outside of the food. In general, the amount of oil absorbed into the food is equal to the amount of water that is removed during frying.
Benefits of Deep Frying
- Time: The entire food item is being evenly and consistently cooked in hot oil, resulting in a relatively faster way of cooking.
- Taste: Frying often occurs above 325°F (163°C), allowing for two flavor producing things to happen; Maillard reaction and caramelization. Once the surface temperature reaches 300°F (149°C), browning and new flavors are rapidly created.
- Texture: Fried foods have a characteristic crisp crust, which is achieved by the high frying temperatures removing the surface moisture and drying out the exterior. When the crust is properly formed, the food should be less greasy and retain its shape.
- Moisture: Breading or batter used helps to seal in the naturally occurring moisture in the food and prevents excess oil from being absorbed.
- Nutrition: The heat from the oil will cook the food and dry the surface, with only a small amount of oil staying on the crust. If the oil is not hot enough, temperatures below 325°F (163°C), it will make food soggy and greasy. When done correctly oil absorbed can be minimized.
Choosing the Right Oil
Smoke point temperature is an essential indicator of when the oil will begin to break down and smoke in the cooking vessel. When cooking foods in a significant amount of oil for a relatively long duration of time, a neutral tasting oil with a high smoke point should be used.
Deep frying typically occurs between 325 to 375°F (163 to 191°C), above 400°F (205°C) the exterior can brown or even burn too quickly before the inside is cooked. For long frying or cooking times, choose an oil that has a smoke point higher than the recommended frying temperature, around 400°F (205°C) or above. Canola, peanut, and soybean oils are most commonly used for deep frying because they have a high smoke point.
How to Deep Fry Successfully
- Amount: Food should be able to completely submerge in oil for even cooking. Depending on the size of the container, typically 1 to 3 quarts of oil is used.
- High Heat: The goal is to have the hot oil instantly seal the outside and cook the inside without burning the surface. The temperature of the oil can be adjusted based on the type that is selected. A typical range of 325°F to 375°F (160°C to 190°C) is used.
- Monitor: Make sure to have an instant-read or candy/oil thermometer that can read above 400°F (149°C) before you start deep frying. The differences in oil temperature change quickly and will significantly impact the fried product if not carefully monitored throughout the process. Turn down the heat and wait for the temperature to lower before continuing. If oil gets above 400 degrees, the interior will not cook and the outside will burn so keep a careful watch.
- Batches: Fry in small quantities. The food is always colder than the oil so it will lower the frying temperature once added. Low temperatures can cause sogginess. To prevent this from occurring, add in a few items at a time. Allow for recovery time so the oil can come back up to temperature before the next batch.
- Clean: Make sure to keep the oil clean while frying by removing any debris or particles from breading or coating. Burnt particles can transfer their flavor to the oil, as well as cause the oil to break down quicker. Use a fine mesh stainless steel strainer or spider to remove debris. Make sure to keep salt and water out of the oil as it also breaks down the oil and can cause dangerous splattering.
- Absorb: Immediately transfer freshly fried food to a cooling rack or plate lined with paper towel to quickly absorb any free oil left on the surface. However, do not let it cool on paper towel, move it to a cooling rack to prevent it from losing the crunchy exterior. Deep fried food can be kept warm on a baking sheet lined with a rack in a pre-heated oven at 200°F (93°C) if working in batches or not eaten right away.
How to Dispose of Oil
Allow the cooking oil to cool completely before discarding or reusing. Leave it in the pot or fryer covered. It can then be strained if still good to use again or disposed of in a glass jar or the bottle it came in. Do not reuse oil if it becomes dark, smokes, foams or develops off flavors. Locate where you can safely recycle used oil in your area. My nearby Jiffy Lube accepts oil, and I’ve heard of local restaurants accepting it too. Never pour oil down the drain!
Tools for Deep Frying
Food can be fried using the basket method, similar to what french fries are cooked in, or the swimming method. When using a large pot or dutch oven to deep fry, the swimming method is often used by allowing the food to float and fry submerged in the hot oil. Tongs or a stainless steel strainer can be used to turn or push the food down and around to encourage even browning.
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