Traditional Texas Food
Articles about Texas' most famous foods
by John Raven, Ph.B.
If in Doubt, Fry It! (Part Two)by John Raven, Ph. B.
As you recall, in part one of this series we went through the basics of pan-frying. This month the subject will be deep-frying.
Fry Me a RiverFirst of all, you need a container in which to heat your oil. It needs to be of sturdy construction. Dutch ovens work well. The thick walls hold the heat and don't let the temperature of the oil drop much when food is added. There are deep fryers for the home kitchen on the market at a reasonable price. If you intend to do a lot of deep-frying, it would be wise to invest in one. The better ones will have a filter for cleaning the crumbs out of the oil, and they can be used to store the oil between uses. The oil will be good for several uses unless it gets too hot or becomes hopelessly full of debris from the cooking.
You don't want to put too much oil in your container. It's going to roil and foam up when you add the food, and you don't want it boiling over. That would be a definite fire hazard. The deep fryers should have a mark inside to show you how much oil it is safe to use. In other deep frying containers, keep the oil at least two inches below the top of the container.
Let's say another word or two about safety. The oil will get HOT! It will cause second and third degree burns in a New York minute. Never try to carry a container of hot oil. Don't move it until it cools off. If your container of oil catches fire, turn off the heat, put the lid on it or cover it with a flat, nonflammable object such as a cookie sheet or use a wet towel. NEVER pour water on burning oil. Don't let me scare you away from the deep fryer here. I just don't want any of you hurt. Most oils will not catch fire until they reach the temperature of 500F degrees. This is called the flash point. Dripping oil on a burner will give you an instant flash point.
You have several choices of oil to use in your deep fryer. Vegetable oil is the most popular. For years, Wesson oil was the only one available. Now there are dozens of brands on the shelves. Vegetable oil is light and does not impart any flavor to foods. Olive oil will not stand up to the high temperatures involved. Peanut oil has become popular with the advent of deep frying turkeys. It will stand a higher temperature without smoking or breaking down than vegetable oil will. I also think it gives a peanutty taste to the food that I don't like, but you may think it's great. The old standby hog lard is my choice for frying fish. It's inexpensive, and I think it imparts a good flavor.
I keep hearing that the chain fast food places use beef tallow for their deep frying. I don't know if that is correct or not. Whatever they use makes for some tasty treats unless they let the oil get old. I've never seen beef tallow on the grocery shelves.
Try several different oils. Use the one you like.
Temperature for Deep FryingNow that we are ready to deep fry, let's turn the heat on. You need the oil to be between 350 and 375F degrees for deep-frying. Your recipe should state the preferred temperature. If you are using a pot on the stove, you can check the temperature with a candy thermometer. Make sure the bulb of the thermometer is not touching the side or bottom of the pot. This would give an incorrect reading. If you are using a deep fryer, set the dial for the desired temperature. (If I had a new deep fryer, I would just have to check the temperature with my candy thermometer to see if they agree).
Don't just throw stuff in the oil. You don't want to splash it all over everything.When the oil is at the correct temperature, put in a test sample of whatever you are going to fry. When it's golden brown, take it out and check the center for doneness. If it's not quite done, turn the temperature down five or ten degrees. This will make for a slower cooking time, allowing the inside to cook longer.
Don't just throw stuff in the oil. You don't want to splash it all over everything. If you are using a basket to hold the food, you can put the food in the basket and gently lower it into the oil. Food that has breading or batter on it will stick to the basket so you have to put pieces in individually. Simple enough, eh?
Except for French fries, nearly everything you deep fry will need a coating on it to prevent the outer skin from getting tough. This coating also makes that delicious crunchy stuff we all love so well. The simplest coating is just flour. The food needs to be damp to get the flour to stick to it. You can brush on some oil before dipping the food in the flour. And the flour can be seasoned, if you desire. Most folks like to sprinkle the seasoning on just as the food comes out of the cooker. This way the seasonings don't get mixed in your cooking oil. Texas fried fish gets only a coating of cornmeal (yellow) before deep-frying.
Deep Fry Breading and Batter
Vegetables scream for battering. There are many recipes for batter, but the popular beer batter can't be beat. Simply mix a cup of flour with a can of warm, flat beer. You get the beer to go flat by opening it the night before you use it and letting it set out on the counter. Battering is a messy deal. You are going to get it all over your hands. You might use tongs or a skewer to clean up the process. Whatever works for you. Dip the food in the batter. Let the excess drain off and then gently drop it in the hot oil.
Deep-fried veggies are great as an appetizer or a side dish. If you are going to deep fry cauliflower or broccoli flowerets, you may want to try dropping them in lightly salted boiling water for about five minutes before you pat them dry and deep fry them.
That wonderful deep-fried cheese is made by breading a lump of hard cheese and then putting it in the icebox overnight before deep-frying it. By the time the coating gets done, the cheese will be starting to melt.
If you drain all your deep-fried foods on a rack or on paper towels after cooking, you will not get excess fat from this method of cooking. As long as you don't go to eating it three times a day, it won't hurt you a bit.
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