Let's face it, virtually anything deep fried is delicious. Potatoes, chicken, fish, hush puppies - the list is endless. And this type of cooking is not limited to the just US. In England the most popular dish is fried fish and chips, and in some parts of China deep fried scorpions are popular. With so many deep fried temptations out there how do you satisfy your deep fry cravings and at the same time maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Deep fat frying has for many years been associated with a number of serious health factors, such as obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol. So it is no wonder that it has earned such a bad reputation with anyone concerned about what they eat. And if you're on any kind of diet deep fried food is strictly off limits.
Short of eliminating deep fried meals from your diet what is the answer? Happily, there are things you can do to reduce the most negative health aspects of deep fat frying. The trick is to use the right equipment combined with a little basic chemistry.
First, let's get one thing cleared up. Greasy deep fried food is a sign of poor cooking technique and not a reason to forgo deep fat frying itself. Deep fried foods that contain high levels of fats and cholesterol usually do so because of low quality cooking oils, lax temperature control and inaccurate cooking times. If you master these three factors and you will be able to produce the healthiest, most delicious deep fried dishes possible.
The first step is to make sure you have
the right equipment. Deep fat frying can be dangerous, especially in
the confined space of a typical home kitchen. To be safe use only a
deep fat fryer designed for home use. These appliances have undergone
government safety testing and come with many built-in safety
features. This will give you an adequate safety margin and allow you
to concentrate of the actual cooking.
There are dozens of models to choose from including major brands such as T-Fal and DeLonghi. Never attempt to deep fry using a saucepan filled with oil over a hot flame. It is very dangerous and unless you are a skilled cook you are unlikely to produce the desired results.
Other essential pieces of equipment you will need are a deep fry thermometer and a pair of tongs.
Deep fat frying basically involves immersing food in hot oil. To produce the healthiest result possible you need to carefully consider the cooking oil. One of the most important characteristics of cooking oil is its smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil will start to smoke. It is also the point that it will start to break down into unhealthy compounds.
Typical deep fat frying temperatures are between 350F and 375F, so an oil with a smoke point of at least 400F is a good choice. Below is a list of common cooking oils and their smoke points:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil 320F
- Virgin Olive Oil 420F
- Canola Oil 400F
- Peanut Oil 450F
- Safflower Oil 450F
- Sunflower Oil 450F
- Corn Oil 450F
Know Your Fats
The other thing to consider is the type of fat the oil contains. The two broad categories are saturated and unsaturated. For the best results always use unsaturated oil. Unsaturated fats have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels (the 'bad' cholesterol) and raise HDL cholesterol levels (the 'good' cholesterol). Canola and Peanut Oil are both excellent choices for deep fat frying and both are monounsaturated fats. Never use saturated fats like palm oil or vegetable shorting.
In deep fat frying water in the food tries to repel the oil. At the same time the hot oil boils the water within the food releasing steam which cooks the food from the inside. Maintaining an even temperature throughout prevents the food from absorbing the oil.
A common mistake is allowing the temperature of the cooking oil to fall too low. This is a sure fire way to end up with greasy, soggy food. Setting and maintaining the correct oil temperature is key to producing food with a golden crunchy exterior and a delicious moist interior.
Don't rely on the thermostat control that comes with your deep fat fryer. They are seldom accurate. Also use a properly calibrated deep fry or candy thermometer (test in a pot of boiling water first to make sure it reads 212F or 100C). Also, try a select a model with a clip that will easy attach to the side of your fryer.
Consistent oil temperature throughout will keep oil absorption levels to a minimum and produce healthier results.
Deep fat frying is a fast method of cooking so timing is crucial. This is where a little practice is usually worth more than a lot of instruction. Start with the times listed in recipe guide but realize that they will vary considerably depending on the model of your fryer, the oil temperature and the food being cooked.
Always cook in small batches. Overloading your fryer will cause the oil temperature to drop suddenly, resulting in greasy food. Lower the food into the oil and check for a golden brown color to appear. At this point remove the food from the fryer and drain on paper towels. If you need to cook several batches you can keep the finished items warm in a 200F oven.
Don't let the food stay to long in the
oil as the outside crust will burn and the interior will end up dry