Good eats, inspired by Good Eats
There’s a lot of people out there who suffer under the impression that fried food is inherently bad for you. Obviously any food in excess is bad so maybe you want to hold off on frying EVERY meal, but when you do it right, your food doesn’t have to be a greasy mess. I’ve learned a lot from watching Alton Brown’s show Good Eats. What I love is it teaches you how and why to cook rather than just letting you watch a celebrity chef cook a meal you’ll never cook for yourself. One of my favorite pairs of episodes of Good Eats are episode 2 from season 4 – Fry Hard 2: Chicken (Fried) and episode 10 from season 2 – Fry Hard. In those episode Alton goes over some of the basics of frying. Oil temperature is key in keeping your food from getting greasy. The gist of frying is, if your oil is at the right temperature, water vapor (steam) is escaping your food and pushing out, keeping the oil from being able to seep in. If your oil is too cold, there’s not enough steam and the oil gets in. Too hot and the water escapes your food too quickly and the oil seeps in. So balance is key. He goes on to fry a batch of fish and chips and I think only 2 teaspoons of oil is gone at the end. Below, I’ll catalog my method for frying and dealing with some of the mess of frying.
Cast Iron Dutch Oven To The Rescue
First, you need a frying vessel. After years of messing around with electric fryers, I’d had enough. I followed Alton’s suggestion and started using my big cast iron dutch oven. Cast iron is great. It’s indestructible (mostly). Cleaning is a snap (more on that later). It holds heat really well. And the best part, it works with induction cooking methods (again, more on that later). This pan is great for chili, stews, and baked beans too. I’ve never been a big fan of canned baked beans but Alton has a recipe that I love. Heck, any recipe that starts with a pound of bacon is a winner in my book. So, take a look at the free once and future beans recipe while you’re at it.
Whatever is an induction burner?
So I’ve got a big pot. That’s wonderful, but the reason I liked my electric fryer was it had that thermostat. I don’t want to have to mess with a thermometer and constantly adjusting the heat on my stove. Enter the induction burner/cooktop. Induction cooking uses an electrical current in the burner to generate a magentic field that makes a bunch of tiny electrical currents in the pan itself that generate heat. There’s no risk of electrical shock from touching the pan, but you won’t want to as the pan itself becomes the heat source. If you really want to geek out on induction burners, check out this link. I’ve linked the model I use. There is a wide variety of powers and features. The less expensive have only a few set temperatures you can use, so make sure those are compatible with the frying temperature you want. We typically fry with canola so a 350 degree setting works well for us. Here’s the beauty, the burner will hold the pan at temperature so you don’t have to think about it. You’ve got all the convenience of an electric fryer with a lot more flexibility. Bonus number two, your entire cooktop is still free!
What about cleanup?
Well, frying can be a mess, but a few tools can help you with that. You’ll probably want the following:
A splatter guard will help keep the oil mess down while your food is cooking.
Since you don’t have a fry basket, you’ll want a spider or similar to help you retrieve your food from the hot oil. You can also use this to carefully place food into the hot oil, but I wouldn’t do that with anything that has a wet batter, it’ll get stuck to the mesh as soon as it starts to cook.
Eventually you need to empty the oil. We keep the empty jug around as you can also use that for disposal. Used oil can be fried with several times before disposal so straining it prior to storage can be helpful. I’d recommend you get funnels like these.
Last, and one of my favorite, chain mail. With cast iron, you don’t want to use soap (it’ll ruin the seasoning). So what you use instead is hot water and something abrasive. My general cleanup process is as follows:
- Empty the oil.
- Get super hot water running in the sink.
- Rinse the pan thoroughly.
- Scrub it with the chain mail scrubber.
- Rinse again.
- Throw it on the stove with the burner on high.
- While the excess water is drying off, wipe it down with a paper towel to remove any excess oil.
- Turn off the burner when dry, let it cool, and put it away.
If you’re worried about not using soap, don’t. Remember how hot that pan gets before your food gets in it. You’ll be fine.
So, do you fry? If so, how? Tried an induction burner before? Here’s hoping you can be less beaten by frying.
Image Credits: LearningLark