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.
- Make sure the oil is hot enough. You want it hear an immediate sizzle as soon as the food hits the pan. “This starts the browning process immediately, creating a seal between food and oil to prevent oil-soaked food,” Amelia says. When making latkes, she suggests making a teeny test latke first. If the oil’s not hot enough, wait a little bit and try another test.
- Heat the oil over medium-high heat, not high heat. You want the oil to reach the right temperature (about 350° F to 375° F), but not too quickly. A lower heat prevents things from getting out of hand.
- Have your food at room temperature. This prevents the food from cooling down the hot oil when it hits the pan. And hot-enough oil means no soggy, greasy food.
- Use a fat with a high smoke point. Grapeseed, avocado, and safflower oils are all good options and have a neutral flavor. Rendered duck or chicken fat (schmaltz) are great, too, plus they impart their flavor to whatever they’re frying. Amelia says even olive oil has a high enough smoke point to shallow fry in, although “some disagree with this.”
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!
And here are some latkes to get started with:
Have a question about shallow frying? Let us know in the comments!