A Well Stocked Kitchen: Frying

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Beignets

To someone who is unfamiliar with cookery, the sheer amount of information can make ones head swim!  There’s always room for tweaking to personal preference, but when I started expanding my knowledge I was utterly befuddled by all the tools and gadgets and the myriad of spices the world has to offer.

There’s a lot of stuff out there; a lot of really cool things and a lot of things you really don’t need.  So, for basic cookery I’ve put together lists, divided by sections, on the handy items to have around.  If you decide to delve further into specific foods obviously you can expand your kitchen, but for now this’ll do ya just fine.

Frying is its own realm of cookery, though can extend slightly into baking, as with beignets which are a type of doughnut.  People all over the world fry foods in oil and have done so for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  Perhaps you simply do not wish to implement frying into your life, but if you do, this is a good place to start.

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Equipment

It all depends on what you will be frying as to the types of equipment you will need to hold the oil.  My dad only uses one giant pot for deep frying.  I however, will use a large or medium pot for deep frying, but I also skillet fry.

Deep Frying is generally for doughnuts, funnel cakes, beignets, frybread, wontons, fish, chicken, and fried potatoes (french fries & tator tots).  This is when you do not wish for any of the items to sit in the pan, but instead to float about in the oil.

For deep frying you’ll need a sturdy, heat resistant pot between 5 & 8 quarts, with a lid.  When frying, never fill the oil past three-fourths.  Adding any item to hot oil makes the oil expand; adding floured, cornmealed, or frozen items makes the oil expand further (than merely dough, like wontons).  Somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 is a good place.

You’ll always want the oil hot enough (350 degrees is the temperature for frying).  If it’s not hot enough, your items will sit in there and soak up unnecessary oil and you’ll have gross, greasy food.  If the oil is too hot, you’ll burn all of the food and the oil, and it could cause a fire.

I never want to put anyone off of frying, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, you could very well cause a grease fire which is extremely dangerous.  Most fryers learn growing up how to fry foods from their parents and grandparents, and already know the safety tips and tricks to proper frying.

But if you’re new to frying, you’ll do just fine, if you follow the simple guidelines.  Never overfill a pot, never leave the cooking oil unattended, and never let the oil get too hot or burn.  Once one batch is fried, wait for the oil to reheat to 350 degrees.  Add food slowly to boiling oil to avoid splatters.  Frozen foods will make the oil sputter and expand.  Coated foods (flour and cornmeal) will make the oil expand slightly.

If, you end up having a grease fire (which thankfully has never happened to me), here is what to do:

* Turn off the heat.
* Do NOT move the pot (you could spill it).  If you must move it, do so after putting on oven mitts and a lid on the pot and only, gently, move it off the hot burner onto a cold one.  Never try to get it out of the house.
* Put the lid on, if you can safely to this.
* If it won’t go out, throw only BAKING SODA on it.  Anything else (water, flour) will cause the oil to fly out or the fire to continue.  Baking soda will starve the fire of the oxygen it needs to thrive.
* If the fire is too large to contain/put out, get outside immediately (don’t forget your pets!) and call the fire department.

Lots of people test the oil for temperature by sprinkling in a bit of flour, which will cause it to cook the flour.  If the flour falls into the bottom, it’s not hot enough, if it starts to sizzle, it’s time to fry.  I use a thermometer, because while I’ve got everything else down pat, sometimes I think the oil is hot enough with this trick, when it isn’t, and I put an item in too soon.

My dad always sprinkles in a few drops of water to test for temperature.  I would not suggest doing this, unless you are a seasoned fryer because water reacts to hot oil differently than flour (and even if you’re an old pro, perhaps you should still forgo this trick), and will sputter violently.  I know why he does it, because he’s a self-taught fryer basically, and flour burns in oil and you won’t get as many uses out of it.  However, the tiny amount of flour your putting in to test, isn’t the same as actually frying flour coated foods, and doesn’t greatly effect the life of the oil.  But, if you’re new, you can (and probably should) use a thermometer.

Skillet Frying is for a variety of meats (pork chops and chicken) and fish, vegetables (breaded okra), & eggs.  It’s also used to sear items like grilled cheese sandwiches or patty melts.  These are for things that you wish to sit in the pan and it uses considerably less oil than deep frying; or merely butter for searing items, of which searing is a type of skillet frying.  Skillet frying is what I use most often.  Things like chicken breasts coated in an egg wash and Italian seasoned breadcrumbs and then skillet fried in olive oil.  Mmmm!

You’ll want to implement the same guidelines for skillet frying (not searing), as you would with deep frying.  Never overfill the skillet (in this case, only up to half full, and no more – you may use less, as it depends on what you’ll be frying).  Never leave it unattended, and never fry the oil too hot.  If a grease fire happens, follow the same procedures I’ve noted above.

The only difference here is that there’s no real need to wait a bit until the oil heats back up.  In a skillet, it takes mere seconds (20, 30?) between removing one set of fried food and putting in a new set for the oil to be perfect.  You will want to make sure, initially, that the oil is the appropriate temperature though.

Any type of deep skillet will work, as you do not want a shallow one for frying.  It just needs to be rather heavy duty, and heat resistant; nothing flimsy.  You may choose cast iron (which is what I use), or any other deep skillet that meets the requirements.

The thermometer is, I think, essential if you are a novice fryer.  A non-digital one can be found easily and is relatively inexpensive to purchase.  They don’t require batteries, and if the readings become askew it’s easy to reguage one.

* Heavy duty, heat resistant pot with lid – 1 (5 – 8 quarts)
* Heavy duty, heat resistant deep skillet – 1 (medium – large size)
* Non-digital thermometer – 1 (long stem)

 

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Tools for frying and draining.

You’ll need something to recapture the items from the hot oil.  Either tool, the slotted spoon or the tongs are great for both deep and skillet frying; depending on what you’re frying.  A slotted spoon (or even one with vertical slots) must be made of metal (stainless steel won’t retain heat and burn your hands).  You’ll want this for doughnuts, beignets, fried potatoes, or wontons.  Things like that.  You can use this for fish and chicken too.  The tongs you’ll need for bigger items like fish, chicken, frybread, funnel cakes, etc.

Fryers all have different ways of draining their fried foods, but all include a baking sheet.  You can line it with either paper towels or with paper bags (which is the method we use).  I find the paper bag method to work better than the paper towels.  I also like my dad’s trick of double draining, which is where the standing wire mesh strainer comes into play.  He’ll prop the fried food up vertically in one of these (chicken, fish, country fried steak, etc) or just put a fried set of vegetables in it; they’ll drain some, then he’ll transfer the items to a paper bag lined baking sheet.  French fries, though, he’ll skip the mesh strainer for them.

It’s a similar method that you might see in a fast food restaurant.  They have fry baskets that they’ll pull out of the oil and set in the edge of the fryer to drain, and then they will throw them into an area where they’ll keep warm and they’ll salt the french fries, but that area is made in a way where the food will continue to drain oil.  Perhaps this is where my dad learned that trick; the double drain, as I like to call it.

As for the baking sheet, you certainly do not need to go out and buy a beautiful brand new one for frying foods, or end up using your new one that you baking cookies on for this.  For frying you’ll want to use an old and janky baking sheet.  One, perhaps that you (or your dad… ahem!) ruined and it can no longer bake cookies.  You can also find old ones at thrift stores, yard sales, and estate sales for cheap.  It won’t really matter, I suppose, but sometimes that oil will get on the cookie sheet (not drained), and sometimes you can’t get it out (even in a dish washer), and who wants fishy cookies?

Plus if you have an old gnarly baking sheet, it’s perfect for baking fish in the oven or for frying bacon in the oven (which we do and the bacon isn’t splattering you to death, like in a skillet and it comes out wonderfully), or you can cut watermelon, or other melons, on it.  You can also have it under a pie in the oven, in case the pie runs over.  The old, unappealing looking, baking sheet has a lot of great uses.  It’s already ruined for cookies, but is just perfect for foods that would otherwise ruin a new sheet, or for “dirty” jobs, so to speak.

You’ll only need to invest in a free standing wire mesh strainer if you would like to implement the double drain.  They don’t run cheap when they’re new, but you can find one second hand, just make sure there’s no rust on the wire mesh or that any of the mesh is broken or torn.  It doesn’t much matter because you’re not sifting or sieveing with it, but you could cut yourself.  And you’ll want a wire mesh strainer because of the number of openings, so a colander won’t work for this method.

 

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Saving used oil

Saving used oil is a part of frying.  You may not wish to do this, but you’ll kind of be missing out.  If you haven’t completely ruined the oil by over cooking it, you can re-use it 3 – 6 times, all depending on what you’re frying or how unsavoury the oil has become.

All new oil is a pretty golden colour, either light or medium in shade.  Used oil grows darker the more it is used.  Also, used oil fries better than new oil (will give you that brown colour you desire, without over cooking.  You’ll only save the oil back into the same container if you used all of the oil in the container in the first place.  So if you only use half the container, you’ll not want to mix used oil with the new oil.

You’ll also never want to mix oils, as a general rule, mainly with oil you have fried fish in.  Fish has a strong taste and will mar your other foods, unless of course you are having said food with fish.  So, if you’re having french fries and hushpuppies with fish, of course fry it all together, and reuse that oil later to fry the same things.  But, only if those things will be paired with fish at that meal.  For just french fries, you’ll want to stay away from oil you have fried fish in, or the fries that you are pairing with that hamburger will taste like fishy fries.  Chicken, pork, and beef mix well together, so absolutely fry some chicken and then use the oil later to fry pork chops.  And their oil is OK to use for vegetables or french fries.

Potatoes are a pretty universal oil mixer.  If you’ve just used the oil for french fries, you can use their oil to fry doughnuts, beignets, fried breads, wontons, etc.  You can also use freshly used potato or bread oil in your baked goods.  It doesn’t have to be fresh, never before used oil in those brownies or those cookies.  But, I’d only use oil from these that’s been used once and is still in good condition (not burnt).  Also if french fries (or fried doughs) were the first thing cooked in the oil, that oil can be used for anything else; any meat or any vegetable (though not the other way round or you’ll have chicken fried dough bread or chicken french fries).  I’d just steer clear if the fried dough was sweet to begin with like funnel cakes or cake mix doughnuts, or you’ll have sweet fried meats and vegetables (unless that’s what you want).

So to save oil you will need a funnel, a mesh strainer, and a rubber/silicon tipped spatula.  You’ll place the funnel into the opening of the oil container and lay the mesh strainer inside.  You can do all of this by yourself, but if you’re new to this you might want someone to help.  Because of gravity/physics and science, you’ll need to hold the funnel a little out of the opening.  The tip will still be in there, but the entirety of the funnel won’t be jamming the opening closed.  And you’ll need to hold the pot full of cooking oil at the same time and pour it into the mesh strainer.

Sounds difficult, right?  You can master this, but if it’s your first time, you will probably get oil absolutely everywhere.  Never fear, just have someone hold the funnel up a bit and you worry with the pouring.  If you don’t hold the funnel up a bit (here’s all the gravity/physics science stuff), the oil will funnel back into the container very slowly and you run the risk of overflow out of the funnel top.

Obviously you’ll have to wait until the hot oil cools completely before returning it to it’s original container.  For one you don’t want to mess with hot/warm oil and it will melt the container, plus the cooling process makes most of the bits settle at the bottom which makes straining for later use easier.  (To cool oil, turn off the burner and gently move the pot to a cold burner.  Wait about ten minutes and then cover with a lid until completely cooled.  Then you can preform the strain and drain.)  The mesh strainer will keep out bits of food or flaked off flour and cornmeal that you do not want back into your oil.  Even if you purchase a package of pre-made, pre-cut wonton wrappers and you’re not stuffing them, you should still drain the oil.

Oil is clingy, so once the bulk is back into the original container, you can let the funnel sit in the opening without holding it up and you can scrape the oil from the sides and into the funnel.  Don’t scrape down the fried bits that were left in the bottom into the funnel.  This you’ll either scrape (using the same spatula) into one of three things.  If there’s not a lot of stuff, you can just scrape it into the garbage.  If there’s a lot of stuff, scrape it into an old coffee can or mayonnaise jar to be thrown away later.  Or, if you want to save this to use as a starter for gravy, you can scrape it into a tupperware container that has a lid.

While you’ll probably want to strain the used oil into the original container while it’s in the sink (in case it spills), you never really want to put oil or oil scraps down the kitchen drain or the garbage disposal of your sink, or your toilet (I don’t know who would do that last one, but I’m adding it for good measure).  Cold oil mixed with water can clog up pipes.  If you happen to spill some into the sink, just get up any extra with paper towels and then use hot water to flush the extra that remains down the drain.  Wouldn’t hurt, after that, to turn the water to cold and run the disposal for a second or two.

 

* Plastic Funnel – 1 (medium size, short or medium tip)
* Wire Mesh Strainer – 1 (medium, with piece that will rest on the funnel)
* Rubber/Silicon Tipped Spatula – 1

 

 

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Oils and batters

You may never use cornmeal, but you’ll always use flour if you decide to deep fry or skillet fry meats coated in it or doughs made from it.  Though I highly suggest cornmeal battered catfish or cornmeal battered okra (but even these will have some flour in the batter coating) because they are more delicious than flour alone.

As for the oils, any oil can be used for skillet frying, whether it’s coconut, olive, rice, canola, vegetable, ghee, etc (butter for searing).  However, olive and coconut shouldn’t be used for deep frying.  They can’t reach as high of heats as canola or vegetable (which are the basic of deep frying oils), plus, it would take a lot of money and oil to fill the pot appropriately.  Ghee can reach a higher heat point, but it’s costly and should only be used for very small pots of deep frying, but you should probably skip this if you’re new to frying.  There are other oils like corn and peanut, but we don’t use them, so I don’t know that much about them.  I know that peanut oil is good for deep frying, but you can easily check online as to which oils (that can be easily purchased in bulk quantities – gallons and larger -, which generally are for deep frying) would be right for you and your foods.

My dad is really big into oils, so we have large gallons of whatever was on special at the time; generally vegetable or canola.  He has also seen the need to purchase a gallon of rice oil (which I must say is quite a tasty oil to fry pancakes in – do try it, if you obtain some rice oil).  My sister and I, however, do have a container of coconut oil, a container of ghee, and we purchase a large jug of extra virgin olive oil from Sam’s to refill the small glass container we have at the stove side.  We use the ghee and coconut oil for certain dishes (and for beauty), as well as for us as popcorn oil.  The olive oil is for general skillet frying like vegetables or meats, or for roasting vegetables in the oven.  You do not need to have a collection of oils.  Simple vegetable oil is enough to deep fry, skillet fry, and add into baked goods, or to create rouxs and bases for soups, gravies, and sauces.

Also, I should mention, that the straining of oils is only intended for oils which you can reuse.  You should not reuse ghee, butter, coconut oil, or olive oil.  Just wait for these to cool and add into your throw away later oil container like a coffee can.  Only frying oils such as vegetable, canola (and probably rice, corn, or peanut) can be reused.

* All Purpose Flour – 1 package
* Yellow Cornmeal – 1 package
* Cooking Oil – 1 – 2 (24 0z – gallon size – depending on your frying needs – vegetable or other good frying oil)

 

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spices

You can make any fried meats (or vegetables) taste amazing with these four simple spices; Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Salt, and Pepper, which are also inexpensive.  Meats are generally quite bland, and if you’ve tasted really great meat, it’s because it was seasoned.  There’s loads of things to season meats and vegetables with, but a very basic list would include just these four, which can be used all across the kitchen with great success.  You can add more spices to your fried items (as well as other dishes), and some recipes call for other things, but with these you can make anything taste superb.

 

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