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.

Tender at the home

The Kid has been living here at the house for the past few months, until a suitable abode could be procured which didn’t necessitate a roommate (it’s an only child thing).A cute little place, not far from us has been found, and our little occupant is in the process of moving in.  And while The Kid will come home for family dinners from time to time, this week is really the last week in which we will sit down for regular suppers.

So, when I was figuring out what nights The Kid would be home from work at supper time, and what I would make, my child had a meal request.

My buttermilk chicken tenders.It’s a family favorite: strips of very juicy white meat, with the tang of buttermilk, and a seriously crispy coating.  But juicy and crispy from one piece of chicken can be extremely problematic.  So, what to do?  And how to do it?

My answer was science.

I was looking for a coating that was insanely crispy, thin and delicate.  I desired golden, salty fairy wings.

Fat-free buttermilk would give me flavor.  It’s viscous enough to cling so that I wouldn’t need any eggs.  Plus, and most importantly, it’s chock full of acid.  Which I needed for the other part of my dredge.

chic tenders

Number two was self-rising flour.  This is flour fortified with salt and baking powder.  Double-acting baking powder has, like the name implies, two opportunities to rise.  One is at room temperature, when it comes into contact with acid.  The second is in the presence of heat.  It can impart a salty, bitter flavor, but the buttermilk tang, salt, and pepper will entirely negate that.

For 1 ½ pounds of tenders, I use about 2 cups of fat-free buttermilk, seasoned, and poured into a shallow dish large enough to easily fit the chicken.  I use three or four cups of self-rising, also seasoned.  It may seem like a lot of flour, but I promise you don’t want to run out halfway through cooking, and be stuck scrambling with nothing left but those weird lumps made when buttermilk drips into the flour.  The breading system is three-stage; flour, then buttermilk, and then back once more into the flour before finally frying.

I also highly recommend using gloves.  And a second person, to actually fry each piece while you’re coating, makes the whole ordeal almost simple.

The procedure is also pretty specific.  Unlike the way I usually like to cook, the tenders cannot be done in advance.  To get that ultra-crispiness you have to bread the chicken immediately before frying.  Otherwise that first, acid-based rise will disipate and you won’t get the full ethereal crust.

And the frying portion of the program is kinda picky, too.I cook the chicky in my 10-inch cast iron pan.  I pour in vegetable oil about 1/3 of the way up the side and heat it to 350 degrees.  When placed in the pan (don’t crowd them—no more than four at a time), the oil should not be deep enough to cover them.  When the bottom is golden flip and cook the other side.  If you oil temperature stays near 350, by the time the tenders are golden all over, the chicken is cooked through, but still crazy juicy.  Perfect.I serve them with ranch dressing and honey mustard for dipping.  Our side is always a green salad, to make ourselves feel just a bit better for all the gorging that takes place.

Thanks for your time.