I avoided deep-frying at home for the longest time, mostly because I was afraid of the mess, the expense, and, (to a lesser extent) the safety. I am here today to completely assuage your home-frying fears. Let’s tackle these one by one:
the MESS: yes, frying can be a bit messy and spattery. However, if you use the right-sized pan and the right amount of oil (more on this later), deep-frying doesn’t need to involve any more cleanup than normal pan frying or sauteeing.
the EXPENSE: yes, oil is more expensive than, you know, water. But despite what some Internet weirdos will tell you, you can (and should!) REUSE your frying oil. I buy a gallon jug of vegetable oil from the Asian grocery store for about $6 and this lasts me up to 10-15 frying sessions. Not too bad!
the SAFETY: not a big deal if you are attentive and careful, which you should be doing anyway when cooking. Use a thermometer. More on this later.
I like to deep fry in my wok, but you can use any large, straight-sided pan. A big Dutch oven works well too. For really small batches of fried food, you can get away with a saucepan (this also lets you use less oil), but you can’t cook as much at once without crowding the pan and bringing the temperature of the oil way down). Speaking of which, this is one of my favorite frying tips: use more oil. Seriously. If your pan is large enough, use up to 3 quarts of oil. This doesn’t mean that you’re going to end up eating any more oil (in fact, if you believe the allegation that hotter oil = less absorption, you’re going to consume less oil) — but the larger amount of oil means that the temperature in your frying rig is more stable, requiring you to do less futzing with your stove to maintain your temperature.
Other deep-frying gear you’re going to need: a thermometer (I like to use a probe thermometer like you’d use for a roast, but you could also use a candy/deep frying thermometer), a pair of tongs, and some sort of slotted spoon. My favorites are the ones that are referred to as “spiders”, which you can find cheaply at an Asian grocery or restaurant supply store. I sometimes also like to have a fine-mesh skimmer handy, for running through the oil and removing browned bits that sometimes accumulate in your fryer. Finally, you’ll need something to drain your fried items on – I like to use a baking sheet with a cooling rack set inside.
For more on deep-frying, check out Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Wok Skills 101: How to Deep-Fry at Home. Whether or not you use a wok, there are some really good tips here.
OK. For my first post in the Friday Fry series, I’ve got a simple recipe for fried chicken “bits” (nuggets? popcorns?). You can eat these on their own, but I like to toss them in a thick, flavorful sauce and serve them with rice and a side of greens. Here I’m using some Thai Three Flavored Sauce that I had in the fridge from a few weeks ago (someday I need to do a post on my favorite homemade, make-ahead, lasts-forever condiments that can really take a meal in a new direction). However, if you don’t feel like making this complex, spicy-sweet-sour sauce, you can make a great orange chicken sauce or even a buffalo-style sauce, which are all excellent. Or just serve them on their own with dipping sauce, or tossed with some iceberg lettuce and croutons for a salad that tastes like you paid $13 for it at Applebee’s.
When the oil has cooled completely, strain it through a fine mesh strainer and pour it back into your container for re-use. I like to keep one big jug of oil just for frying (it even has a label “FRYIN’ OIL”). That way, you can keep your frying oil separate from your cooking oil. When it starts to get really cloudy and/or really funky smelling, throw it out. I find that frying fish seems to quicken the funkification of the oil, so while I don’t shy away from making shrimp tempura, baja-style fish tacos, or fish and chips, I usually wait until I’ve got some older oil that I know I’m going to throw out soon. Further fried fish on future Fridays.
Hey, let’s see some more photos!
(most photos by Sarah)
Crispy Boneless Chicken Bites with Sauce
adapted from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook
1.5 pounds boneless chicken breasts or chicken tenders, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika (optional, but it’s a nice addition if you’re serving the chicken on its own or with the Buffalo sauce. While not unwelcome, it’s not necessary with the Asian-style sauces)
3 egg whites
vegetable oil for frying – at least 2 quarts
Marinate the chicken in the soy sauce and 1/4 cup water. Let sit for at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour. Combine the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, cayenne pepper, and paprika in a medium large bowl. Beat the egg whites in another medium bowl. Prepare two baking sheets with racks set inside them.
Drain the chicken well. Working in 3 or 4 batches, toss the chicken chunks with the egg white and then with the flour-cornstarch mixture. Place on one wire rack and let air dry for 5-15 minutes.
Pour the oil into a large, deep, wide, heavy pan — either a wok or a Dutch oven. You should have at least 2 inches of oil but there should also be at least 4-5 inches of clearance between the oil and the top of the pan. Place a thermometer in the pan and heat over medium-high heat until the oil has reached 375 degrees.
Carefully place 1/3 of the chicken in the hot oil and agitate gently for a few seconds to make sure they don’t clump together. Continue to fry, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. You want the oil to stay right around 350-360 degrees F, and you’ll probably have to regulate the heat pretty constantly. When the chicken is done, remove to your clean wire rack/sheet pan rig and repeat with the rest of the chicken. You will probably have to do at least 2 more batches for a total of 3 batches. Don’t crowd the pan!
Serve chicken on its own or tossed with 1.5 cups of any of the three sauces below.
Thai Three-Flavored Sauce
I can’t even say that I “adapted” this recipe — I completely copied it from Leela Punyaratabandhu’s excellent blog She Simmers. Rather than reproducing it below, just check out her recipe here. Be warned that the Three-Flavored sauce is quite hot, especially if you let it sit around in the fridge for a few weeks like I did. You may want to add a bit more sugar and/or use a smaller amount of chiles. As always, taste frequently, and when you’re tossing the chicken with the three-flavored sauce, go easy — a little goes a long way.
Orange Chicken Sauce
1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons orange zest
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Combine the orange juice, orange zest, sugar, chicken stock, and soy sauce in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Mix the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons cold water to make a slurry, then mix the slurry into the orange juice mixture. Continue to cook until lightly thickened, about 1 minute.
1 stick butter
1/3 – 1/2 cup hot sauce, such as Frank’s Red Hot
Melt the butter in a saucepan or in the microwave and combine with the hot sauce.