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Deep Fat Frying Basics

Deep frying is one of surest ways of locking in flavor and developing great texture (also known as the "crunch") in cooking.

The premise of deep-frying is simple. Food, usually battered (to keep the food's surface moisture from coming into contact with the hot oil, which would cause splattering), is added to a pot of hot fat. The fat immediately surrounds the food and cooks it from all sides, creating an exterior layer that seals in the food's flavors and juices inside. The fat temperature determines how long the food will take to cook through on the inside and become golden and crisp on the outside. When prepared properly, deep-fried foods absorb much less fat than you would expect.

First, be sure to read the recipe all the way through before starting. Take the time to gather all the ingredients and cooking equipment you'll need.

Be sure to choose a pan that's larger in circumference than the heat source. Because oil catches fire easily you want to avoid spilling it altogether. But mistakes do happen and working with a pan that's larger than the burner you're working on will ensure if any oil accidentally spills over there is less of a chance it will drip down the sides and catch fire. Also by using a pan that's wider than it is deep will ensure you can fry more than you can in a narrower but deeper pan. Many experts feel a Dutch oven made of seasoned cast iron is ideal.

Always use clean, fresh oil. Although chefs will debate the merits of vegetable versus peanut oil (not to mention the more costly virgin or pomace olive oils) one thing they all agree upon is that food fried in old "stale" oil, especially oil in which a pungent food like fish has been fried in, can never taste quite as good as fresh.

Never fill your pot more than half full of oil. Remember you'll need at least 3 inches between the surface of the oil and the top of the pot to allow room for the oil to bubble up.

Constantly monitor the temperature. Although you can buy fancy (and sometimes expensive) electric fryers which come complete with a built in thermometer, they are not necessary. With a large, heavy pot (such the Dutch oven cast iron pot mentioned above) and a quality candy or deep-frying thermometer -- you're in business. Look for a thermometer with a clamp on it so you can attach it to the side of the pot. Most deep-frying is done at 365°F (185°C). If you don't have a thermometer, a you can drop a cube of white bread into the hot oil. At 350°F (175°C) the bread fries to a golden brown in about 1 minute; at 375°F (190°C) it takes about 40 seconds.

Don't crowd your pot. Add only as much food to the pan as it can hold without the food touching while it fries. The oil should move around and bubble up freely around each piece, keeping the temperature steady for even cooking.

Use the right tools. To remove fried foods from hot oil opt for an Asian wire mesh skimmer, a slotted spoon or a pair of spring loaded tongs. And don't forget a paper towel covered plate or baking sheet to drain fried foods on. Placing a clean brown paper bag beneath the paper toweling will give you even more absorbency.

Remove foods in the same order in which they were added to the pan to insure they have all been evenly cooked.

Make sure the oil has completely cooled before moving the pot of or disposing of the oil for safety's sake.

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