Hot oil! We repeat: Hot. Oil.
It's scary, we know. There's all that bubbling, sputtering, and sizzling. There are worries about soggy, oil-laden this and, conversely, too-crispy, burnt bits of that.
If you're intimidated by frying, you should start with shallow frying: There's less oil. It's more manageable. And it's very important for this time of year especially, with Hanukkah and latkes on the horizon. (Also, year-round, as shallow frying is essential to most fritters.)
We asked cookbook author Amelia Saltsman (who taught us, last year, the secret to easier deep-frying is adding a carrot) for her tips on shallow frying without fear and with great, golden brown results. Here's what she had to say.
Let the oil reach its smoking point. Your food won’t cook evenly and will taste burnt and bitter. If the oil smokes, turn off the heat, let it cool down, then discard the oil and start anew with fresh oil.
Use too much oil. Start with about 1/8 inch of oil, an easy amount to control, and add more oil as you cook, if needed. “When you want to add more, tilt the pan a bit, pour in the oil, and let it heat quickly before setting the pan back squarely on the burner to allow oil to flow under and around the food in the pan,” Amelia says.
Crowd the pan. This lowers the heat of oil, prevents browning, and promotes grease-laden food. Plus, it makes it harder to flip what's cooking.
Use oil with a low smoke point oil, such as nut oils.
You’ll want a large (12- or 14-inch is good), heavy straight- or slope-sided sauté pan. Use either a cast iron or all-clad pan, but not (not!) a non-stick pan which causes the oil to bead up (meaning bubble) and prevents good browning. Plus, Amelia notes, non-stick pans are not designed for high-heat cooking. You could also opt for an electric frying pan, which has a temperature gauge that makes it easy to know when the oil’s ready to fry. It’s a more foolproof option for those who need/want it.
Besides the proper pan, an offset spatula makes turning food easy work. Also be sure to have a couple paper towel-lined half-sheet pans nearby to receive the fried goods and absorb their excess oil.
If you haven’t ever fried before, Amelia has this final thought:
Don’t be afraid of hot oil—just be careful. The most common mistake people make with any kind of frying is not getting the oil hot enough; my observation over the years tells me it comes from fear of frying rather than not knowing the right temperature. Embrace the sounds of a good hearty sizzle! Trust your eyes, ears, and nose!
Okay: Ready, set, shallow fry!
Have a question about shallow frying? Let us know in the comments!