Food & Drink

Coast Cooking: Often maligned, deep frying can be used to delicious effect

Julian Brunt

JULIAN BRUNT/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALDFried potato cakes and turnip greens make a great combo.
JULIAN BRUNT/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALDFried potato cakes and turnip greens make a great combo.

Deep frying is often maligned these days.

The time-honored practice of dropping battered pieces of chicken, catfish and a host of other good things to eat into caldrons of boiling oil is considered unhealthy.

If you use the proper technique, however, and don't eat fried food too often, it can be a delicious treat now and then.

After all, deep-frying has been used by Southerners for generations and is still used around the world with delicious results.

The Italians fry calamari, and everyone fries doughnuts and french fries.

There are, however, people who go overboard with such dishes as the deep-fried Twinkie and deep-fried butter, but there are always people who will take things to excess.

Baking something in a slightly oiled pan imparts fewer calories than any method, other than boiling or steaming, but the results are not the same as frying.

You could turn to sautéing, but sautéing something in hot oil takes 5 or 10 minutes while deep frying the same thing in boiling hot oil takes only a minute or two.

To minimize the unhealthy effects of deep frying, you must use proper technique.

The oil must be scrupulously clean and at the right temperature. The food must not be straight from the freezer; you must not crowd the pan, and most importantly you must not overcook the food.

Lastly, deep-fried food needs to be drained on paper towels and served immediately.

If you use proper technique, there is almost an endless list of things that can be deep fried to good effect. Perhaps at the top of the list is seafood: oysters, shrimp and fish.

We don't want to overlook the french fry, though, and if you use the two-step method for which the Belgians are famous, then french fries can become things of beauty. It is simple: fry at a low temperature to cook, drain, rest and then fry again at a high temperature to crisp.

So, let's begin!

FRIED POTATO CAKES AND TURNIP GREENS

This is a great recipe that can be made with leftovers, can be served as a side or can be the main event.

2-3 cups leftover mashed potatoes

1 cup left over turnip or collard greens

1 small chopped onion

Flour

Salt and pepper

Oil for frying

2/3 cup cooked corn, optional

Season the potatoes, add the chopped onions, and the corn if you choose to use it, now form into equal sized patties. Coat in flour, shake off the excess and deep fry until golden brown. Remember the potatoes are already cooked, so they should be fried only until golden brown. Drain, plate, and garnish with the greens. Some might like to add an additional garnish of tomato chutney or chow-chow.

OYSTERS

I hesitated to include this recipe, as it is so simple, but the simplicity belies the importance of doing it right. If the oil is not hot enough, you will fail, if you crowd the pot, you will fail, if you cook them too long you will fail.

1 pint oysters

1 package tempura powder

1 package Panko bread crumbs

Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning

Drain the oysters, but reserve the liquor for a good gumbo. (It will keep in the freezer almost indefinitely.) Put the panko and the tempura in separate, large bowls. Season the tempura with Tony's. Heat the oil to 375 f, that's almost smoking hot. Remembering never to fill the pot more than half way with oil. Toss the drained oysters in the tempura, shake off the excess, and allow to rest and become tacky. Now toss in the panko, and again shake off the excess. The number of oysters you can fry at one time depends on the size of the pot or fryer you are using. The point is not to drop so many in at a time that the temperature plummets, that makes for soggy results. Add a small handful of oysters to the oil and cook for exactly 1 minute. If they are not golden brown by then, the oil is not hot enough, or you have added too many at a time. Drain, season again if you like, and repeat the process. Serve at once.

FRIED BOLOGNA OR SPAM

This is another simple recipe, but I include it because it illustrates an important principle. Fatty foods, especially pork products, are improved in flavor when fried in hot oil. Bacon is perhaps the best example. Bologna and Spam may not be high on your list, but when deep fried and made crispy and brown, they make some of the best sandwiches ever.

1 can Spam or thick slices of bologna

Black pepper

Oil for deep frying

Cut the Spam into1/4-inch slices; if you are using bologna, have the deli thick slice it for you. Heat the oil to 375 F, drop in the Spam or bologna and fry until golden. Just a minute or two will do. Drain, place on toasted bread, add mayonnaise and some fried pickles if you like and serve at once.

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

Fried green tomatoes make a great addition to many dishes. They are splendid served on top of a cheeseburger or alone when they are garnished with lump crab meat and a béarnaise sauce.

Sliced green tomato

Whisked egg and a little milk

Corn meal

Salt and pepper

Season the egg wash, dip the slices in the egg, then in the corn meal, shake off excess and fry until golden brown.

Julian Brunt, who comes from a family with deep Southern roots, writes Coast Cooking in Wednesday's Sun Herald and has a blog at sunherald.com. He is a food writer and photographer with columns in magazines.

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