Culinary Arts

Cooking 101: Learn the Science of Frying, Plus 20 Recipe Ideas for Frying at Home

Written by MasterClass

Jun 25, 2019 • 8 min read

From all-American state fair classics like corn dogs, tater tots, and fried pickles to popular dishes around the world like Japanese pork tonkatsu, Indian pakora, and Mexican churros, fried foods are an important part of just about every kind of international cuisine.

Although this method of cooking has been used since ancient times, today deep-fried foods are best known as street food and fast food industry mainstays. However, frying is also a versatile method of home cooking used in kitchens everywhere to achieve crispy, golden brown dishes at an affordable price point.

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What Is Frying?

Frying is a method of cooking in which food is cooked in a bath of hot oil or fat, typically between 350 and 375ºF. Depending on the type of frying, food is either partially or fully submerged in the fat until the food has turned golden brown with a crisp outer layer and moist interior.

While undeniably delicious, fried foods should be consumed in moderation, as eating fried foods every day could pose a higher public health risk of heart disease due to the fat content and potential for trans fats consumption.

How Does Frying Work?

Frying occurs when a food is introduced to hot oil and rapidly begins to dehydrate. When the food is submerged in the oil, the water within the ingredient immediately starts to boil and rise to the surface, causing free fatty acids to form. A starchy crust around the outside helps to lock in moisture, preventing the food from becoming completely dehydrated.

During the frying process the Maillard reaction occurs, resulting in a golden brown color and rich flavor. The heat from the oil also cooks the interior of the food, allowing the fibers to soften, proteins to denature, and starches to gelatinize.

The protective crust around the food is typically formed with starch-heavy foods, such as breadcrumbs or flour-based batters, although naturally starchy foods like potatoes can create their own crunchy outer layer while in the fryer. This barrier is essential to the frying process in order to lock in the moisture and avoid excess oil absorption.

4 Different Types of Frying

There are four commonly used cooking methods for frying food:

  1. Deep frying: A full-immersion form of frying in which food is completely submerged in hot oil. Frequently done with a deep fryer machine.
  2. Pan frying (aka sautéing) : A healthier form of shallow frying in which food is cooked in varying amounts of oil in a frying pan. For this method of frying, foods are generally sliced thinly before frying.
  3. Stir-frying: This method of frying typically takes place in a unique pan with sloped sides, in which food is cooked quickly over higher temperatures. Commonly used in Asian cooking, this method is best done over an open flame or gas stove.
  4. Air Frying: A healthy method of “frying” with hot air instead of fat in a special air fryer machine.

6 Fats That Are Great for Frying

Choosing the right frying oil depends on a number of factors including the cooking technique, healthfulness of the recipe, desired flavor, and more. The preferred frying fats differs significantly depending on the area of the world and type of cuisine. While in Indian cooking, ghee, coconut oil, and ground-nut oils are commonly used, in Southeast Asia palm oil is preferred. In the Mediterranean, pure olive oil is the frying fat of choice, while in South and Central America they frequently use lard.

As a rule, the best oils for frying are neutral flavored oils with a high smoke point—the temperature at which an oil starts to burn. While unsaturated fats are considered the healthier choice for frying, many of these fats have a lower smoke point and will break down at a typical frying temperature. On the other hand, saturated fats such as rendered beef and duck fat will produce a better flavor that tastes less oily.

Some popular forms of fat and oil used for frying include:

  1. Peanut oil
  2. Rendered animal fat, such as lard
  3. Soybean oil
  4. Canola oil
  5. Sunflower oil
  6. Shortening

What Equipment Do You Need for Frying at Home?

  1. Deep Pot or Deep Fryer: For deep-fat frying, stick with a heavy cast-iron pot, Dutch oven, or wok that can easily fit the oil and ingredients while leaving plenty of extra room. Home cooks can also invest in a deep fryer machine made specifically for this method of cooking.
  2. Thermometer: A reliable, heavy-duty thermometer will help ensure the oil temperature has reached the right level. In a pinch, a wooden spoon stuck handle-down in the oil can also be used to check the temperature; when the oil begins to bubble around the spoon, it's ready to fry.
  3. Cooling Rack: A cooling rack placed in baking sheet is useful for draining fried food straight out of the oil. While food can also be drained on paper towel-lined plates, this can result in soggy bottoms and uneven cooling.
  4. Skimmer (aka a Spider): This tool, which has a small mesh basket on the end of a handle, is perfect for adding and removing foods safely into and out of the oil. Cooks can also opt to use stainless steel tongs or slotted spoons.

7 Tips for Frying at Home

  1. Monitor the temperature: Use a thermometer to ensure the oil has reached the correct temperature called for in the recipe and remains consistent throughout the cooking process. While oil that is too hot will burn the surface of the food, oil that isn’t hot enough will result in soggy, greasy dishes.
  2. Don’t crowd: Cooking too many pieces of food at one time can potentially result in the temperature of the oil dropping quickly, which will cause the grease to be absorbed into the food. Cook in small batches to avoid major fluctuations in temperature.
  3. Keep the sizes universal: Before frying, cut the food into similar sizes and shapes, which will guarantee that everything fries at the same rate. Big deviations in size will result in uneven frying and undercooked food.
  4. Drain thoroughly: It’s important to drain fried foods on a rack or paper towel-lined plate in order to get rid of excess oil.
  5. Season immediately: Be sure to season the food once it comes out of the fryer, as the flavor will be locked in while still hot.
  6. Eat it hot: Fried foods should be eaten hot in order to fully enjoy the crunchy exterior and moist interior. The longer a fried food sits, the more the moisture from the inside of the food will penetrate the outer crust and make the surface soggy.
  7. Safety first: Safety is the of the utmost importance while working with boiling oil. Never leave a pot of frying oil unattended and keep children away from the frying zone. Use a large, sturdy pan with plenty of extra room and a heavy-duty slotted spoon or pair of tongs to avoid contact with the oil.

How to Properly Discard Frying Oil

Used frying oil should be cooled to room temperature and then poured into a disposable container—such as an empty tin can or milk carton—before being thrown in the trash. Frying oil should never be poured down the drain, as it can clog pipes and do damage to plumbing.

Can You Reuse Frying Oil?

Some frying oil can be reused for another round of frying. Oil should only be reused if it appears light and clear. Allow the oil to cool, strain out any crumbs or fried debris, and pour the oil back into a glass or plastic bottle.

20 Frying Recipes

  1. Fried Chicken: A classic Southern American dish made with chicken coated in a flour and seasoning mix and deep fried. Nearly every cuisine in the world has a regional variation of this dish; Chef Thomas Keller’s secret to the best fried chicken is a 12-hour brine.
  2. Fried Zucchini Flowers: Zucchini flowers coated in egg and flower, and pan fried in grapeseed or peanut oil.
  3. Schnitzel: Chef Thomas Keller’s schnitzel is traditional German meat dish made with veal or pork pounded thin, coated in bread crumbs, and fried in a skillet.
  4. Fried Green Tomatoes: A Southern dish made with sliced tomatoes dredged in a cornmeal mixture and cooked in hot oil.
  5. Greek Pan-Fried Fish: Whole fish lightly dredged in flour and fried in pure olive oil with sprigs of rosemary, garlic, and bay leaves. Served with a light Greek salad and lemon vinaigrette.
  6. Coconut Fried Shrimp: Whole shrimp dredged in flour and coconut, and deep fried until golden.
  7. Homemade Potato Chips: Thinly sliced potatoes blanched in cold salty water, drained, dried, and cooked in hot oil until golden and crispy. Seasoned generously with salt.
  8. Pork Tonkatsu: A traditional Japanese method of frying in which a thin pork cutlet is breaded in Panko breadcrumbs and deep fried. Typically served with a cabbage salad, rice, and Worcestershire sauce mixture.
  9. Pakora: An Indian fried snack consisting of a mixture of vegetables coated in a flavorful batter and pan fried.
  10. Onion Rings: A popular appetizer or side to burgers made with sliced onions coated in flour and breadcrumbs, and deep fried until golden.
  11. Korean Chicken Wings: Spicy chicken wings made with deep-fried drumsticks tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce consisting of soy sauce, Korean chili paste, garlic, sesame oil, sugar, and vinegar. Garnished with sesame seeds and green onion.
  12. Fried Ice Cream: Scoops of ice cream coated in egg whites and a crunchy cornflake mixture, deep fried in hot oil for 10-15 seconds until golden. Served immediately.
  13. Churros: A traditional Mexican dessert made with thin strips of dough piped through a pastry bag, deep-fried, and coated in a cinnamon-sugar mixture.
  14. Falafel: A Middle Eastern specialty made with minced chickpeas, flour, onion, garlic, coriander, cumin, salt, and pepper. Falafel are fried in a pan or deep-fryer.
  15. Fish and Chips: A British favorite consisting of thick cod or white fish fillets coated in a batter, fried, and served with thick-cut French fries, tartar sauce, and malt vinegar.
  16. Pajeon: A Korean fried scallion pancake made with a batter of scallions, eggs, flour, seasonings, and optionally meat or seafood.
  17. Coxinha: A Brazillian fried croquette filled with a cream cheese and chicken mixture, breaded and fried in a pan or deep-fryer.
  18. Chicken-Fried Steak: A popular dish in the Southern and Mid-Western regions of the United States, made with steak coated in a flour mixture and deep-fried until golden brown and crispy.
  19. Hush Puppies: A form of savory fried dough made with cornmeal, flour, egg, onion, baking soda, milk, and seasonings. Pan or deep-fried.
  20. Fried Plantains: A classic Latin American and Caribbean side dish made with sliced plantains fried until golden and tender.

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