Fry baby, fry

McDonald’s is being sued.

They’ve recently begun selling mozzarella sticks.  It seems that instead of piping hot, breaded planks of cheese, numerous patrons have been presented with hollow cylinders of sadness—no cheese.

The corporate explanation: “In these instances, we believe the cheese melted out during the baking process in our kitchens and shouldn’t have been served,”

My guess is that at some point the sticks may have had a very brief sojourn in an oven; either in the facility that prepares food to be shipped out to local restaurants, or in the store itself.  But make no mistake, those things also spent some time in a bubbling oil Jacuzzi.  Or should have, anyway.

First the bad news about frying.

My personal pet peeve is that frying’s messy.  Oil is greasy, and the bubbling fat produces tiny little droplets that float through the air and coat everything (including people) in the kitchen.  I always shower after frying and as soon as the hot water hits me I smell like the corn dog stand at the state fair.  Yuck.

It’s not the healthiest method of cooking.  No matter how you do it, fried food will absorb some fats.  It just will.  This can be mitigated though.  Use unsaturated plant-based fats.  Animal fats are the culinary equivalent of Bacardi 151.  This is the kind of thing that should only be indulged in once or twice a year, if ever.

He likes duck fat fries too…

Frying is really east to screw up.  When Petey and I were first married, I decided to make fries from scratch, and fry them up.  Unfortunately I’d never asked anyone how to do this.  So, I put a big pot on the burner, poured in about $10 worth of oil (a ton of money back then), and turned on the burner.

After about five minutes, I dumped in all of my hand cut fries.  There was nothing.  Those puppies sunk into that oil with barely a ripple, let alone the all-important bubbling and sizzling sounds.

I was flabbergasted when 15 minutes later I pulled out potatoes which were colorless, limp, and as greasy as a seventies disco owner, only no hairy chest and gold medallion peeking out from a half-buttoned polyester shirt.  They were inedible, and I wasted a bucket of food.

This is what my poor fries looked like.

It was literally years before I tried deep-frying again.  By that time, I understood the science of cooking in general, and frying specifically much better.

Like hot air, boiling water, fire, and steam, that bubbling oil is merely the medium to transmit heat into the food.  Hot oil is just about the most efficient method.  Unlike water which boils at 212, the correct temp for frying is 350 degrees.  That is 65% higher.  Unlike baking or grilling, oil completely surrounds the food, which cooks it quicker, and more evenly.

Here’s what happens when you fry.

When the food enters the oil, the surface moisture is turned into steam; thus the bubbles.  As it cooks the heat is transferred into the interior, cooking off more moisture.  If the temp is correct, and the food not too dense, when the exterior is golden, the interior is cooked through.  Also all the surface water is gone, giving you that addictive crispy mouth-feel.

If you listen closely, you can hear angels singing.

All oil has something called a smoke point.  It is the temp at which the oil begins to break down.  It will smoke, the food will taste funny, and dangerous, carcinogenic compounds will be formed.  This food will basically be funky tasting poison.  Olive oil has a very low smoke point, so bad for frying, peanut oil high; so good.

Temp is not only important at the start; you also want to control something called recovery time.  That is the time it takes for the oil to come back up to temp after you put food into the oil.  So, you don’t want to put too much in at one time—this will lower the temp so much that it may never heat back up, and you will end up with greasy, soggy, thoroughly unpleasant fried food.

And if you’re going to turn your kitchen into an oil slick, and risk ruination of your heart and waistline, at least do it right.

Thanks for your time.

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