Straighten Up and Fry Right
Grab your skillet, and celebrate the South's favorite way to cook.
Foods to Fry:
- Delta-Style Fried Catfish
- Chicken-and-Mashed Potato Fritters With Lime-Cayenne Mayonnaise
- Lime-Cayenne Mayonnaise
- French Fries
- Tempura Dill Pickles
- Cracker-Breaded Fried Shrimp
If our region's famous for one cooking method, it's frying. And with good reason. Southerners are all about attaching emotion to their food, and nothing stirs feelings of comfort and nostalgia like frying. There's just something to be said about the crispy, golden-brown crust of a fried catfish fillet or the tender inside of an apple fritter. Is your mouth watering yet?
If you're new to frying, follow our tips and suggestions so you'll man the stove like an old pro.
What's The Difference?
The recipes for this story use one of two basic frying methods--pan-frying or deep-frying.
- Pan-Fry: Items are usually breaded (a dry mixture) or battered (a combination of liquid and flour or starch), and cooked in enough oil--about 1/2 inch deep--to create a layer of fat between the items being cooked and the pan (example: chicken-fried steak, fried pork chops). Foods should be turned only once.
- Deep-Fry: Items are usually breaded or battered and cooked in enough oil to completely submerge the item (such as hush puppies or beignets). Items are allowed to float to the surface and may be gently turned once for even browning.
Perfect French Fries Every Time
Choose low-moisture, high-starch potatoes such as russet or Idaho. For crisp fries, wash the cut, uncooked strips in several batches of cold water until the water is clear. However, for the crispiest fries, we found the double-fry method hard to beat. Frying strips twice in the same oil at different temperatures gives you fries like no others. This recipe, using the double-fry method, received our highest rating.
- The secret is using the right oil. Smoke point is the temperature at which fats and oils begin to smoke, indicating they've begun to break down. The higher the smoke point, the better it is for frying. Lard and some vegetable oils such as corn, canola, safflower, and peanut are good choices. Shortening is not suitable for high-temperature frying.
- Moisture and food particles break down oil, so don't reuse it more than twice. If you see smoke, discard the oil, and start over.
- Achieving and maintaining proper oil temperature is a must. If it's not hot enough (often caused by overcrowding), the food soaks up oil, leaving it greasy. Too hot, and the outside burns before the inside cooks, creating food that's soggy.
- Use heavy-duty aluminum, stainless steel, or cast-iron cookware for even heat distribution and the retention of high temperatures. Iron speeds up the breakdown of oil, so when using cast-iron cookware, it's best to use the oil only once.
- Choose cookware that's large enough to leave at least 3 inches between the surface of the oil and the top of the skillet or Dutch oven.
- Always allow the oil to return to its proper temperature between batches. We like to use a candy thermometer, which can handle high temperatures and be attached to the side of a large skillet or Dutch oven for instant readings.
- Make sure food is dry. Adding moist food to hot oil will cause spattering and popping.