Miracle of Oil

Jonathan Chodosh

Every year as the cold becomes bitter, Jews across the world will light up the night and loosen their belt buckle. This time, we expand the waistline with another gluttonous endeavor--frying. Some people pan fry, deep fry, oven fry or air fry. Let's look at how and why frying works the way it does and make even the last drop of oil count.

Excuse me while I get scientific. When something is fried, there are an enormous amount of variables to consider. Oil type, heat, cooking time, coating, and lastly, the choice of food. Soaking in water and blanching are special steps used to french fry. Let’s take this one item at a time and unpack each one.  

Why is this oil different from every other oil? Oil is 100% fat. All oils are, and there are no exceptions, sorry. It is sugar free, carb free and most importantly contains NO WATER. This is important! Oil can reach temperatures higher than water. Keep going too far and the oil will burn. When you fry something the exterior of the food is cooked in a dry heat environment. All the water on the surface of the food will boil off and what is left is hopefully a golden brown jewel. If a drop of water gets into your hot oil it will pop and splatter. This misstep is the cause of many a kitchen burn.

The oil of preference for most commercial applications is soybean (also known as vegetable oil) and/or canola oil. These oils have a neutral flavor and wont go rancid too quickly for frying. Peanut oil (allergen) is excellent for frying and tends to give food a crispier texture. Corn oil, palm kernel oil, cotton seed oil, low quality olive oil,  beef fat, duck fat, and clarified butter are traditionally used for frying purposes. Do not use toasted sesame or extra virgin olive oil for frying. They contain tasty impurities that taste great when raw or slightly heated but will burn and give your food an unpleasant flavor.

Having the oil/pan/oven preheated to the proper temperature is very important. Proper heat management is needed to maintain the frying temperature. In the oven it is easy, while on the stove can be a bit trickier. You can test your oil by using a thermometer or use a less precise method of gently dropping in a small bit of what you are frying. Look for the bubbles and sizzle you expect. If you see it start to burn immediately, you are too hot. If it doesn't do anything you are way too cold.

Continuing the proper heat throughout the cook is important too. You want to maintain a constant sizzle and bubbling in your fryer/pan. If you get too hot the food will burn. If it gets too low, the food will be soggy with oil. It is a popular food legend that frying your items too low will lead to more oil being absorbed by the food. This has yet to be verified.

Time is completely variable to what is being cooked. Fried chicken can take up to half an hour where tortilla chips are done in about 10 seconds. A good rule to follow is the larger the pieces are the longer they need to cook using a slightly lower temperature.

A batter coating or breading is used for many fried foods. Most cultures have their coating of choice. Batter up? What do you choose? Below will be a standard three stage breading. 

Special techniques for french fries.

When handling fresh cut potatoes they turn brown quickly. One way to avoid that is to place the cut potatoes in a bowl of water. This will remove the surface starch and prevent the potatoes exposure to oxygen causing the browning. Removing this starch should get you crispier results.

Blanching is a method used to make french fries. They are fried twice. The first time is called the ‘blanche’ and the second time is the ‘fry’. The blanche cooks the fries through but the texture is lacking. They are drained and slightly cooled while the oil is reheated for the next round. The second fry makes them crispy, golden and delicious. Season after they are out of the second fryer.

When my forefathers we in the old country, we ate fried everything. Today we try to limit our exposure to such things. So oven frying and air frying are some of the newest frying innovations. They are both pretty much the same thing. I highly recommend coating the item to be oven or air fried with some oil to replicate the oil on the surface of frying. The air is much less dense than oil and therefore a less effective conductor of heat into the food. We try to compensate for that with by using your oven on convection mode and very high heat.

Latke

5 pounds golden potato, washed

1 pound onion, peeled

6 eggs

1 Tbsp salt

¼ cup flour or cornstarch

Oil for pan frying

Make the batter first! Use the S blade in your food processor to puree everything but the potatoes in the food processor. Add one potato and continue to puree. Yes, you read that right - only one. Move that to your work bowl. Then shred the remaining potatoes and put directly into the batter as fast as possible. Having the batter ready prevents over exposing the shredded potatoes to air and letting them brown.

Heat saute pan (straight sides) with at least ¼ inch oil to frying temperature. Shape your latkes with your hands. Try to make them equal thickness so they will finish cooking at the same time.

Three Stage Breading for Chicken

2# Chicken breast for breading, Thin cut or in nuggets

1.5 Cup flour

3 Eggs

¼ cup water

1 Tbsp Salt

3 Cups bread crumbs

Herbs and spices (to your taste)

Make three breading (stage) dishes. In the first goes the flour. In the second the eggs, water and salt. Third does the bread crumbs. Season the eggs because that is the easiest to disperse the salt into. The flour absorbs the eggs which sticks on the most bread crumbs. Pan/oven or deep fry until the internal temperature reaches 160F.

Hand Cut Fries

Washed, cut and soaked russet potatoes

Salt

Malt vinegar (or condiment of your choice)

Oil for deep frying, peanut recommended

Drain and thoroughly dry potatoes. Preheat oil and as it is heating drop in a single fry. When it starts to ‘dance’ it is ready to fry. This is a lower temperature than most other deep fried foods. When dropping the fries move your hand over the oil and away from your body in one fluid motion. This motion will make any oil splatters occur away from the cook. Remove fries and allow oil to reheat for approximately 2 minutes to re-fry in medium high heat. Gently fry the french fries until they are golden and delicious.

When a cool food is dropped into a deep fryer, oil temperature will drop like water cooking from an ice cube. Increase the heat for a few minutes to help the oil rebound back to the proper temperature.

Frying in a rush? You can also fry the long short way. Cook them until the form sets but potatoes are still raw and finish the whole bunch in the oven.

Hope this article clari-FRIES some of the misconceptions and fears about frying in oil.