"I used to think that in order to deep-fry, you needed a deep-fryer. Not so."
Spring and summer might not seem like prime deep-frying season—that is, until you remember it's the time of year for soft-shell crab sandwiches, battered oysters and clams, fried chicken, chips and guacamole, and salty fries as a side to the perfect lobster roll or burger. Got your attention now?
I used to think that in order to deep-fry, you needed a deep-fryer. Not so. To do it at home, just grab a stockpot, wok, or deep-walled saucepan, and a candy or deep-fat thermometer, and go to town.
How to Prepare
The best frying oils have high smoke points so they won't burn under the high temperatures required for crisping. Some good candidates are peanut, grapeseed, pecan, and vegetable or canola oils. Fill your pot of choice with a moderate amount—maybe around a quart or two for an at-home-sized batch of fried food, depending on the size of your pot and the amount you're cooking. As a general rule, it should be just enough to fully cover a batch of whatever you're frying.
Set up a thermometer to keep track of your temp, and place the pot on the stovetop over a medium flame. While it heats, prep the items you plan to cook by cutting or breaking them down so they're all similar in size to one another. This will ensure everything cooks at the same rate.
In the art of deep-frying, drying is key. Since adding water to hot oil will cause the oil to jump, and sometimes even boil completely over the pot, food should have no excess moisture on it when it goes into the fryer. Thoroughly dry each piece with a towel or paper towels before cooking.
Post-cooking, the food will need another drying session—this time to rid itself of extra grease—so set up a sheet pan lined with a few layers of paper towel or a drying rack somewhere near the stove. And if you don't plan on serving food immediately or have may batches to fry, you'll need a warm oven to keep it crisp. Set yours to its low setting, or somewhere around 200°F.
How to Deep-Fry
When your oil reaches the desired temperature (this depends on the food and varies with the cook, but if your recipe doesn't suggest one, 325 to 350°F should be a decent starting place), gently lower in a small batch of food, such as one large handful of clams or a few pieces of chicken. The goal is to maintain the temperature of the oil, and adding too much food at a time will cause it to plunge.
If you're up to temp, the oil around the food should immediately start to bubble. Use a spider or other slotted metal or bamboo utensil to nudge the pieces away from one another so they're able to crisp on all sides.
When the frying items are looking golden brown and irresistible, remove and sprinkle with salt or seasonings. Repeat with the remaining batches (stop when the oil starts to brown or gives off a strong smell).
Finally, call me over. I'll bring the beers.
About the author: "Sue Veed" is an editor at a Manhattan-based food magazine and a current culinary student who's trying to learn it all so she can cook it all. She'll take us along for the ride as she makes the journey from home cook to professional. Among things she may never master: looking natural in a chef's hat, and acting demure whenever a pork product hits the table.
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