Deep-Fried Philosophy

When guest blogger Julia Beizer isn't frying up a storm, she's juggling many balls as food and dining producer at Below, her deep-fried report, which, coincidentally comes just in time for Hanukah (the ultimate tribute to oil), beginning this Sunday, Dec. 21, at sundown.

There's something about a deep fryer that turns grown men into boys. Just the thought of throwing food into a pot of sizzling oil takes my husband (and his crew) back to their days of skinned knees, holding a magnifying glass over defenseless insects.

Julia's sweet potato fries and onion rings just out of the oil. (Julia Beizer)

While visiting a few years ago, one of my husband's fraternity brothers eyed the tiny deep fryer perched over our kitchen cabinets and his face broke into a mischievous grin. "Dude, you guys have a deep fryer? No way!"

Off we went to the store, picking up flour, milk, eggs, cornstarch, bread crumbs and anything that looked like it would be vaguely tasty when battered and dunked.

The night continued like a science experiment. We trolled the Internet for recipes, finding thousands of variations on mozzarella sticks, portobello mushroom fritters and deep-fried Twinkies. We then cobbled together the best instructions and created batches and batches of golden-brown delicacies. Some were fantastic, some just made a mess of our fryer, but all were a great accompaniment to an impromptu Tuesday evening fete.

I know that eating this way isn't good for my health or my waistline; still, I'm sure I'll indulge in at least one more of these feasts before the football season is over. Although I'm not as dedicated of a deep fryer as some of the tailgaters I've seen over the years, I've been around the hot-oil block long enough to throw together a few tips for a successful fryer fiesta.

Embrace the Mistakes. A sense of adventure is key for any deep-fry party. The most successful (and talked about) creations are the ones that seem the most out-there. Just last Sunday, I fried battered balls of guacamole after reading that a similar recipe made an appearance at the 2007 State Fair of Texas. The result tasted like cool guacamole in a crispy shell. Not the best thing I've ever eaten but still, you can't really go wrong with crispy avocado chunks.

The Freezer Is Your Friend. Start scrolling through deep-fried recipes and you'll find a lot of references to the freezer. The icebox is a vital step when dealing with ingredients that easily disintegrate in hot oil (fresh mozzarella, Twinkies, etc.). Some recipes call for 10 minutes of freezing, others for an hour. In my own experience, the longer the better.

Prep, Prep, Prep. You don't want to be chopping, battering and freezing when guests are around, so slice those sweet potatoes into French fries and coat onion rings with panko in advance. It also helps to whip up any sauces you might like -- herby aiolis, marinara, plain old ketchup -- before the frying begins. The food's best right after the excess oil drains off and you'll want sauce around to offset the greasy flavor (and the guilt).

Build a Batter -- Then Embellish. Generally, I use three battering techniques. For French fries, I drop naked strips of potato into blistering peanut oil (about 375 degrees). For onion rings or tilapia strips, I dip into an egg and milk wash before dredging in crumbs. For other treats that need a starchy armor (like macaroni-and-cheese balls) I dredge in a simple flour and cornstarch-based batter (similar to this recipe ) before dipping into the hot oil bath. The gist is this: Crumb-only fry will pop more on the tongue; use the two-step wet-dry batter for a crunchy shell and extra layer of flavor.
As for embellishments, I really dig how chili powder perks up my sweet potato fries and what fresh parsley can do to my mozz-stick mix.

Toy With Temperature. Different recipes call for different temps for the oil. I've never fussed much about this -- I just set my Cool Daddy on high heat and forget about it -- but I wonder if my guac balls might have been more evenly cooked if I let them have a few more minutes in fryer before being burned to a crisp.

Don't Fear Dessert. The best experiments are the sweet ones. The infamous deep-fried Twinkie tastes as decadent and bad-for-you as you might imagine (although Kim, who had her inaugural DFT this summer at the Iowa State Fair, could barely down two bites). A few balls of deep fried cookie dough -- also from the 2007 Texas fair -- were the hit of last Sunday's event. I usually add a touch of sugar to my batter for sweet treats.

After last Sunday's party, three things were certain: 1) My guests were fat and happy. 2) Our kitchen smelled like a fast-food joint (complete with jars of discarded grease). 3) Finally, I knew I needed a salad for dinner.

What's your favorite way to get your deep fry on? Share your kitchen ways and means in the comments area.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 19, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Entertaining
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I've been trying to perfect fried mashed-potatoes, and have taken to freezing them before dredging and frying. But, inevitably, some of the potato "leaks" out of the ball, leaving a half-filled shell. Any suggestions?

Posted by: dan_of_dc | December 23, 2008 2:28 PM

Hey, Dan. Wow, that sounds ridiculously good. I've had some luck with freezing *after* dredging (in addition to before). I just pop battered pieces into the freezer for 10 minutes tops. It helps stabilize everything, if you know what I mean.

You might also want to try a thicker batter, one with more cornstarch. I accidentally used too much cornstarch in a recent experiment and the result was pretty indestructible. Good luck!

Posted by: Julia Beizer | December 24, 2008 12:42 PM

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