The gentle art of frying

A stranger came to the Abbey, or so the story goes, and knocked on the old oak door.

As the sound of their blows echoed inside and died away, footsteps could be heard approaching. The ancient portal creaked open, revealing a figure clad in a long brown habit and clutching a frying pan in her gnarled old hand.

“Are you the friar?” the stranger asked.

“No,” replied the figure. “I am the chipmunk.”


Wok this way please

Frying is one of the most basic ways to cook, and yet, surprisingly, it’s the one that seems to go wrong most often. Cooks who have no problem handling a wok still manage to make a mess when it comes to the humble pan.

In general, there are two reasons for this. One is that the pan is often too hot or too cold. The other is that the food is left to its own devices and burns or is not cooked well. So here’s tip number one:

Frying is not a passive activity.

Pounding something into the pan and stirring occasionally is not the way to go. He should stir the food almost continuously, just as he would if cooking in a wok.

To fry successfully, that is, without absorbing too much fat, you need to cook at a high temperature. In fact, the fat in the pan should be smoking when you put the food in, but it shouldn’t be on the heat.

Two things will happen. There will be an instant seal on the food which will reduce moisture loss and inhibit fat absorption, plus the pan will cool slightly while maintaining cooking temperature.

You need to do two things: reduce the temperature of the stove to about half of what you used to heat the pan, and keep the food moving. You can do this by shaking the pan, pouring food into it, or simply using a spatula. That’s all about it. Just imagine you are using a flat wok.

Does this apply to tortillas? If it does. They will cook quickly and well using this method. They will also burn easily if left, so work to continually bring the cooked mixture to the center of the pan and dump the liquid stuff out to the edge, reheating the pan only when it’s obvious cooking has stopped.

Just remember to always treat the food in the pan like you’re in boot camp. It can rest from time to time, but no longer than is necessary to reheat the pan in which it is cooking.

deep fry

Aside from French fries, or “chips” as French chefs call them, just about anything fried should have some sort of covering to protect it. This is usually dough or breadcrumbs.

Both are simple to make, but have somehow become more complicated with the passage of time and the elevation of chefs to celebrity status.

These days, breadcrumbs are easy. Just buy a package of one-step breadcrumbs at your grocery store and follow the directions on the package.

Too easy? Okay, just once and for fun, find some stale bread, reduce to crumbs in a food processor (about half a loaf should do the trick), line with a plate of flour and a bowl of beaten egg.

Now roll the food in the flour, dip it in the beaten egg and roll it in the breadcrumbs making sure to use one hand for the dry ingredients and the other for the wet ingredients.

When you’ve had enough of that, try it my way 🙂

keep it simple

The dough is nothing more than flour to which a liquid has been added and air has been introduced through sustained beating. And that is.

You do not believe me?

Sydney’s famous fish restaurant, Doyle’s, is famous for the light, crispy batter in which the fish is cooked. It is made up of just three ingredients: flour, water, and elbow grease.

The secret to a light batter is whipping with as much air as possible, which is one of the reasons cold soda water or beer works so well. They are already full of gas which gets trapped in the mixture as it expands during cooking.

There are no hard and fast rules about amounts. Simply mix enough liquid into the flour to give it the consistency you want. I like my batter to coat the back of a dessert spoon when I dip it in and stir immediately.

To coat, lightly dust the fish with flour and pat it between your hands before dipping the fish into the batter. Holding the fillet by one end, drain off any excess liquid and immediately transfer to the fryer.

Too little heat means defeat

Again, the trick is to get the fat really hot before cooking. And I mean hot. Like, hot tuxedo. In other words, the maximum temperature your fryer allows. (If you cook using an open pan and basket, be very careful with this, fat fires are not a pretty sight.)

Yes, I know there are cute little diagrams on the side of your cooker that tell you what temperature to use for fish, what to use for chicken, etc. Ignore them. Heat your fat to maximum first, then add the food, then turn the dial back to the temperature suggested by your product’s manufacturer.

How do you know when the food is ready? Floats to the surface of the fat. Take it out, drain it well and remember that it will continue to cook for quite some time afterwards. That’s why chicken can be kept until everything else is ready, while fish should be served almost immediately.

Follow the simple guidelines above, use really fresh ingredients, and you’ll have nothing but hit after hit. That really is all there is to do.