(Author’s Note: I’ll be moving my food writing from the group blog back to my own blog now that the summer is over and I’m trying to keep my writing regular)
Beginning the summer after my freshmen year of college, I have hosted an annual deep-fried day. Having heard of delicious deep-fried twinkies and snickers from the Texas State Fair, I insisted that I could do the same, and for the past 3 years, I have worked on my technique. As of yesterday, I think it finally paid off.
The theme for our weekly potluck this past week was “deep-fried food” to continue my tradition. Sensing that others might be tired of this, I presented this as an opportunity to think of other things we might deep fry, traditional or not. It worked out perfectly, with falafel, goat-cheese wontons, fried cheese in a salad, and sweet potato fries as good options. What worked best about it, though, was that all of these required different sauces and ingredients to accompany the deep-fried bits. Our dessert, though, was twinkie, oreo, and snicker-ful.
Given the improvement that we’ve managed over the years, I thought I might put together a few thoughts on deep frying. I tried to organize them, but the topics overlapped too much, so it’s just paragraphs.
You can use just a regular pot to do it and use a canola or vegetable oil for it. You can buy a deep fryer, but it isn’t necessary as long as you’re careful. As far as the size of the pot, I have been using something about 8 inches. Bigger takes a lot more oil, and smaller doesn’t give you enough space (though don’t worry about that too much as I will explain soon.
Have a thermometer with you and try to keep the heat between 350 and 375. You can be on the 350 for things that need to cook through but won’t soak too much grease (falafel) but hotter on the things that will soak it up (oreos). On my slow electric burner, I can get to 375 below medium, so you don’t need to crank the heat too much.
What will happen, though, is that when you put things in the oil, the temperature will drop. Thus, my strategy for deep frying has been to keep the heat just below medium until I get to the desired temperature. Immediately after adding things to fry, I turn the heat up a little, then watch the thermometer. When I start approaching the original temperature, I bring the heat back down.
As far as adding things to the pot, always do batches so you know how long things have been in the oil. If you try to stream items in and pull them in and out over time, you can’t maintain a steady temperature. Similarly, try to keep the batches small (that’s why an 8 inch pot works) so that the temperature doesn’t drop too much.
As far as adding and removing things, dumping in with a slotted spoon (even plastic) should work just fine. I tried to move things in and out with chopsticks before, but gripping battered food will coat the chopsticks in a layer of fried batter quickly. As far as other equipment goes, have lots of paper towels around and try to pat dry things immediately after coming out of the pot. Things cool very quickly, so don’t be too afraid about burning yourself on the food.
For the batter, pancake mix works just fine. It should just barely be thick enough to coat things. Make sure all surfaces of the food are covered, but don’t worry too much about getting a thick coat; as soon as it hits the oil, it’ll puff up and harden.
Go slow with it. You can only eat so much fried food, but you’ll feel better about it if you spread it over a few hours. Or maybe even days. As long as the oil doesn’t get too hot and go rancid, you can reuse it a few times.
And to be intentionally didactic, make sure you do it safely. A pot of oil can ruin your day quick. Keep the lid nearby in case you need to cover the pot at any point. Don’t put water/ice/water-based stuff into the oil, or else it might begin to sputter.
You can google around to look for things to deep fry (pretty much everything), but here are a few things I or my friends have done. Most are successes, but failures are notable too
- twinkies – they work fine even if you don’t freeze them. Batter and top with powdered sugar.
- PB & J sandwiches – battered. It’s delicious
- Snickers – I’ve only done frozen before, but I think that’s the way to do it
- Onions & mushrooms – great with BBQ sauce
- gummy worms – these disintegrated quick, but liquified gummy worms are delicious
- ice cream – haven’t done, but I hear it’s delicious. These take preparation
- falafel – good as a meal on its own. Pair with traditional things
- sweet potato fries
- goat cheese
- fried wontons