Of all the areas of home cooking, it seems that frying might be the scariest. And indeed, a healthy respect for cooking in hot oil should be had by any cook. But the truth at the heart of frying is that anyone can do it, so long as you’ve got the right knowledge. Want to know how to fry anything? Read on!
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What’s the Difference Between Pan Frying and Deep Frying?
The essential difference between pan frying and deep frying is the depth of the oil.
Pan frying can be done with a small quantity of oil in a pan, as the name suggests. Deep frying requires more oil, and therefore, a deeper vessel.
When should something be pan fried vs deep fried?
If the item to be fried can touch the bottom on the pan, it can be pan fried (think breaded chicken cutlets, latkes, and fried green tomatoes.)
If the item needs to be able to float in the oil (think doughnuts and potato chips) it should be deep fried.
The pot or pan used for frying should never be filled more than halfway with oil.
Filling past halfway increases the risk of grease fires, as oil is more likely to spill over the edge and onto the heat source.
In general, this means: choose a pan for pan frying, and a pot for deep frying.
Choose Your Cookware
Personally, I prefer a cast iron pan for pan frying and a cast iron pot (dutch oven) for deep frying.
Any cookware material will work, but heavy materials like cast iron and steel will heat more evenly and are preferable.
Non-stick cookware is not recommended, as most non-stick coatings are not made to withstand prolonged, very high temperatures.
A high-sided pot can be used for deep frying, and can be useful for preventing spatters and splashes from escaping the pot. Keep in mind that a long-handled utensil will be needed to access the food without risking burns.
Gather Your Tools
While not absolutely necessary, a thermometer is very helpful for monitoring the heat of the oil for the tastiest possible outcome (more on that later.)
I used to like to use an infrared thermometer, but now I’m using this instant read thermometer and I like it better because it continually reads the time and doesn’t shut off– very helpful for frying! A frying or candy thermometer can also be used.
If you don’t have a thermometer, here are some methods to try:
- Use a wooden utensil to test the heat of the oil. Stick it in the hot oil, and if tiny bubbles form all over, the oil is hot.
- Run a test with a small quantity of what you’ll be frying (I.e. a single potato chip) If it bubbles fiercely immediately, the oil is hot enough.
Heatproof Slotted Utensil
Necessary for turning and scooping.
I prefer a spider because it’s easy to use, and can hold a hefty amount. It’s also good for lowering items into the oil.
You can also try a metal slotted spoon, metal tongs, or a frying basket.
Avoid unwieldy tools, like a slotted spatula. Loosing control of food can cause oil splashes.
Wire Rack and/or Baking Sheet Lined with Paper Towels
I use both for different types of foods.
A wire rack is great for frying items that benefit from air circulation, like crispy tofu.
Paper towels work well for items that benefit from oil being wicked away from its surface, like potato chips and French fries.
Use the Right Oil
High smoke point oils should be used for frying, as frying is generally done at high temperatures. Oil heated past its smoke point will taste bad and be more likely to ignite/cause fires.
The most popular high smoke-point oils for frying are peanut oil, vegetable oil, and canola oil. (I use canola.)
Get the Right Temperature
Correct temperature is key for tasty fried foods.
Different items can sometimes require different frying temperatures, but if you aren’t sure, 365F is a good place to start.
If the oil is too cold, the food will absorb the oil (rather than repel it, like it will with hot oil), becoming greasy.
You may notice that the oil is too cold if the food does not bubble fiercely when lowered into the oil, or is taking an unusually long time to cook.
Adding too much food to the oil at a time will cause the oil temperature to drop dramatically, so be mindful not to overcrowd the pot or pan.
If the oil is too hot, the food may taste like overheated oil, may cook too quickly on the outside/not enough on the inside, and/or may burn.
When frying on the stovetop, it’s helpful to have a thermometer because the temperature of the oil can vary dramatically over the course of frying. (This is why deep fryers exist, because they maintain the temperature for you!)
It’s important to allow the temperature of the oil to come back to where it should be between batches of frying.
It’s also natural for the temperature to drop when food is added to the oil. Adjust the heat as needed to aim to keep the oil as close to the ideal temperature as possible. In general, you’ll frequently be a few degrees off at least, and that’s okay!
Safety First: Grease Fries and Burns
It’s important to stay attentive while frying. Never leave the stove unattended while frying.
In Case of a Grease Fire:
- Turn off the burner if possible. Turn off the oven if it’s on.
- Smother the fire by depriving it of oxygen. Here are a couple of ways:
- Cover the fire with a metal lid (a glass lid can shatter) or a baking sheet.
- Pour a lot of baking soda (not baking powder) or salt on the fire.
- Use class B chemical fire extinguisher.
- Do not use water or a wet towel to put out the fire. The grease will repel the water and splash the fire around because oil and water don’t mix
In Case of a Burn:
- Turn off the burner.
- Move the burned area to the sink and run under cool water until the pain subsides
How to Reuse and Dispose of Frying Oil
Frying oil can often be used more than once, and up to five times.
Here’s how to save it for next time:
When the oil is cool, strain off any debris and store the oil in an airtight container in a dark, cool location.
- Here’s how I like to do this:
I block the sink drain and do this in the sink, because oil spills are messy. I pour the oil from the pan or pot into a fine mesh sieve that’s sitting over a large measuring cup. Then, I pour the strained oil from the measuring cup back into the oil’s original container.
If the oil was used to fry seafood, label it as such because it will maintain a seafood flavor.
When should frying oil be discarded?
- If the oil severely overheats, affecting flavor, it should be discarded.
- When the oil becomes dark, clouded, or has debris that cannot be strained out, it should be discarded.
When the oil is ready to be discarded, dispose of the oil inside its securely sealed container in the trash.
Check options for your area, as many cities have cooking oil recycling drop offs.
Never pour oil down the sink.
How to Fry Recap
- Choose a pan for a small amount of oil and for foods that can touch the pan. Choose a pot for a larger amount of oil and for foods that need to float. Aim for heavy cookware materials
- Set up your frying station: wire rack or paper towels for draining, heatproof slotted utensil, and thermometer
- Use high smoke-point oil
- Monitor the temperature of the oil, and allow it to come back up to the proper temperature between batches. Do not overcrowd the pot or pan.
- Smother grease fires with a metal lid, baking soda, or salt. Run burns under cool running water.
- Strain and reuse cooking oil up to 5 times. Discard oil when it becomes overheated, dark, cloudy, or full of debris. Discard in a sealed container in the trash, or recycle it locally.
You can do this. Good luck!