When I teach cooking classes I usually explain to my students that there are basically three ways to cook almost anything. The first method is direct heat, which includes grilling, searing or pan sautéing. The second is indirect heat, meaning that the food is surrounded by dry heat that does not come into direct contact with food, such as baking or roasting. The third method is braising, where ingredients that include copious amounts of liquid or broth surround the food, and then it’s slowly simmered.
One of these three methods of cooking is used in almost every common recipe. There is, however, one more method of cooking that is the dirty little secret of some of the tastiest food there is. It is deep fat frying.
When we think of deep-fried foods, the word “cuisine” might not come to mind. Bar menus, carnivals and fast food drive-throughs might be a more likely place to find these indulgent little morsels of golden brown deliciousness. Beer-battered onion rings, Buffalo wings, jalapeño poppers and hot salty French fries are just a few of America’s most favored fried foods. While we Americans love to indulge on all things batter coated and crunchy, one can find examples of local fried fare all over the world.
The British fry up the finest fish and chips, and in South America little meat-filled pastries called empanadas are deliciously fried up daily. Asian spring rolls and Indian samosas achieve their crispy outer texture in this way as well. Although it may be an indulgence, on occasion, I believe most everyone enjoys the taste and texture of perfectly cooked fried food.
The method of dropping food into a vat of hot oil may sound pretty self-explanatory, but there are a few rules to follow to achieve success. First, a deep fry thermometer must be used. If the oil is too hot, the food will burn too quickly and still be undercooked in the center; if the oil is too cold, food will suck up too much oil and be soggy and greasy. Rule of thumb has the oil maintained at or around 375 degrees. This may take adjusting the heat during the process to keep the oil at the right temperature. Second, using the correct oil ensures that the oil does not burn and impart bad flavor. Vegetable, canola, peanut and good old-fashioned shortening are the best choices. Finally, use a heavy gauge pot that is large enough to hold ample oil for the food to be submerged and still leave 3 to 5 inches above the oil to the top of the pot. Food bubbles furiously when dropped into hot oil, and you want to have plenty of headroom to prevent dangerous spillovers.
Hanukkah is the festival of lights and traditionally this is the time to celebrate with foods fried in oil. So enjoy the holiday and fry up a batch of something delicious! Although we all know it is not so good for us, we can all agree that even if it’s no more than once a year it’s still darn tasty!
Café Du Monde Beignets
A doughnut is a doughnut, but the beignets from Café Du Monde in New Orleans are one of America’s deep-fried treasures. I got this recipe from the restaurant itself.
¾ cup whole milk
1½ cups buttermilk
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2½ tablespoons sugar
3½ cups bread flour plus extra for flouring work surface
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
Peanut oil for frying
Confectioners’ sugar for serving, as much as you think you’ll need – then double it
Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until small bubbles form at the surface. Remove from the heat, add the buttermilk and then pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk in the yeast and the sugar and set aside for 5 minutes. Add the flour, baking soda and salt, and mix on low speed, using a dough hook, until the dry ingredients are moistened, 3 to 4 minutes. Increase the mixer speed to medium and continue mixing until the dough forms a loose ball and is still quite wet and tacky, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set the dough aside in a draft-free spot for 1 hour.
Pour enough peanut oil into a large pot to fill it to a depth of 3 inches and bring to a temperature of 375°F over medium heat (this will take about 20 minutes). Line a plate with paper towels and set aside.
Lightly flour your work surface and turn the dough out on it. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, gently press to flatten, fold it in half and gently tuck the ends under to create a rough-shaped round. Dust again and roll the dough out into a 1/2-inch to 1/3-inch thick circle. Let the dough rest for 1 minute before using a chef’s knife, a bench knife or a pizza wheel to cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares (you should get about 48).
Gently stretch a beignet lengthwise and carefully drop it into the oil. Add a few beignets (don’t overcrowd them, otherwise the oil will cool down and the beignets will soak up oil and be greasy) and fry until puffed and golden brown, turning them often with a slotted spoon, for 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the prepared plate to drain while you cook the rest. Serve while still warm, buried under a mound of confectioners’ sugar, with hot coffee on the side.
Crock pot spicy apple butter
5 pounds apples, peeled and finely chopped
4 cups sugar
2 -3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
Place apples in a large bowl. Combine sugar, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Pour over apples and mix well. Place in crock pot, cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Decrease heat to low; cover and cook on low for 9-11 hours or until thickened and dark brown. Stir occasionally. Uncover and cook on low for 1 hour longer. If desired, whisk until smooth. Spoon into freezer containers, leaving ½-inch headspace. Cover and freeze.
Lisa Glickman is a private chef and teacher who lives in Portland. She has made TV appearances on COTV in Central Oregon and appeared on the Cooking Channel’s “The Perfect Three.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.