Frying Food the Right (& Nourishing) Way
I am a corn-fed Midwest girl. I have lived in the big city, I have lived in the South. I am on the side of a mountain out West these days, but my husband will attest—I am still very much Midwestern (even if not corn-fed). There are certain things that just go with that…
- You say “sorry” for every little thing other people do accidentally to you.
- You smile at everyone, and small-talk in the line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
- You never pass up “free”.
- And you fry. Fried fish, fried potatoes, fried chicken and fried green tomatoes. This very well might be the one thing in life for which you stand unapologetically.
To my family, I am a black sheep. I eat things like curry and sushi and quinoa. I am still invited over for dinner though because — in spite of my personal food renaissance– I do still fry.
Frying food can be done in a very healthy way, I promise. So today I am going to Free Your Fry.
Greasy spoon, not greasy gut
We grew up with canola oil and peanut oil and (gasp!) shortening. I have since learned way too much about the human body…it is an amazing creation indeed and should not be treated like a landfill. In a recent podcast with Annesse Brockley and Kristin Urdialies (authors of “AutoImmune: The Cause and the Cure”) they explained that shortening was originally invented to shelf-stabilize candle wax. Yum. Anyway… The discussion of the hydrogenation process and the slow poisoning of a country is another topic for another day. If all you have ever known are storebought oil for frying and you have made a conscientious decision to ban them, can you still get the same results?
My, yes. Better. We have found that rendering lard and tallow (beef “lard”) is easier than boiling an egg. Seriously. Maybe a tad bit messier but it is a walk-away process—especially if you employ your slow cooker. The flavors are richer, the crisp-factor is a 10, and these are heat-stable fats that do not change on a molecular level.
The fats that do change are typically polyunsaturated fats such as vegetable, soy or canola. We stay far away from these because of the industrial processes that must be used to make them even edible create perverse responses in the body. The body does not know what to do with these imposters. There is strong evidence for links between “heart healthy” oils (i.e. vegetable oils) and responses in the body such as cancer-causing and autoimmune disease-causing toxins that your body cannot process because it sees these oils as foreign. Oh, and lard can and should be reused! As the fats experience heat they do change, and one particular change that lard and tallow experience actually assists the oil to cross the oil/water barrier. Since food is mostly water, this older grease is better able to get to the food faster to shorten overall cooking time. It also adds a lot of flavor and wastes nothing. So save your grease!
Not sure about home-rendered lard yet? Okay, try Ghee! Again the key is that you want an animal fat that is heat-stable without creating a molecular change to the oil itself. Coconut oil is another good choice, but please be careful of its source because it is not uncommon for it to be hydrogenated to increase shelf-life.
(Pictured: Wilson was making his infamous Eggplant Parmesan in someone else’s kitchen)
Oh, I would be amiss if I did not mention one more thing—no olive oil! It has a low heat tolerance (the “smoke point” is low) and you are destroying the micronutrients. It is not a healthy high-heat oil—use it on your salad instead. I mean, yes to olive oil, just no to using it for your fried taters.
A fried food with animal fat is far, far, far healthier than a baked food that used hydrogenated oil. I’ll take my homemade French fries slathered in lard an-neee-day over a store-bought “baked potato chip”. Your end product will reflect the quality of oil with which you started.
This is my mom’s secret technique.
It’s why she is given so many special requests by friends and family and rarely gets to pick her own menu when cooking.
We all know egg-flour-pan. Yawn. The breading partly falls off, then burns in the grease. Once the smoke alarm has been deactivated, you are left with something soggy and breadless. Oh no, dear friend. Here is the tip to change your result: double dip. Egg, flour, egg, flour, then the pan. I promise. It will also keep the interior of the food moister; a good breading will protect the food from too much water evaporation.
So with a dinner menu that requires your attention in three places simultaneously, you can bread ahead. In fact, breading ahead and placing the food in the refrigerator will help the breading to stick to the food in the pan. It may seem anecdotal but I notice a difference. It makes the batter stickier somehow.
I am not about to enter the debate of what the breading ought to be. This is akin to politics and religion. If I come over for dinner, though, and you want to wow me with a good fried green tomato…and you are asking…flour over cornmeal. The gluten-free version with almond flour makes a pretty tasty breading too.
Breading Tip: keep the leftover scraps of your homemade bread in the freezer. It is okay if the bag becomes a hodge-podge of quick breads and rye and whatever-is-left. With a weekly breadbaking day, we invariably have one sad little piece that no one will touch in lieu of Momma’s steamy fresh loaf. I chuck it all in that bag in the freezer. When I need bread crumbs, I make them easily with a sealed plastic bag and a meat mallet. I prefer to dehydrate them first but it is not entirely necessary.
Nothing Like Cast Iron
I know that cookware is partly preferential and partly fad. My mom told me just this past Christmas how they stood in line after Thanksgiving for a set of brand-name pans, and a bunch of ladies attacked another for the last set. My dad saw the employee walking towards them with another set and asked if he could have it—then handed it to the poor lady who was mauled. Really people? Because a TV chef says to? Is your food going to taste like hers (which, by the way, you have never tasted for yourself) just because you have those beautiful new pans?
I know this much, a good cast iron skillet will outlive you. It also deepens the flavor and is benign; many of the new-fangled coatings are scary. Cast Iron can do double duty from stovetop to oven, and some amazing dishes (like frittatas) require that anyway. I recommend having more than one in your kitchen, maybe one with a handle on each side to make carrying or transferring it that much easier. Read this to learn about the proper care for your cast iron.
Out of the Heat and Into the Frying Pan
No one wants the grease splatter or smoke that sometimes results from the heat too high. However, you do need to start with high heat, especially if using new oil, before you add the food. Let the skillet get to high before you add food because simply by adding room temperature food, you will be lowering that oil temperature by as much as 50 degrees! Immediately turn the heat down to a more manageable temperature after that, and Wilson and I cover the skillet with a splatter guard.
There are some exceptions to the temperature rule above, and that is how thoroughly something must be cooked. For instance, you do not want to serve raw pork to your guests, and you can burn the outside only to discover the, well, rawness at the table. Ew. So if you are doing chicken thighs or extremely thick pieces of meat, be mindful not to burn the outside while waiting for the inside to get that perfect shade of yummy.
Some Good Eatin’
Whether it is meat or vegetable, an ethnic treat like Tempura or a down-home comfort food like potatoes, you really ought to fry something for your family’s enjoyment. They appreciate the effort of the occasional treat. When you fry, please remember some of these tips for the best health and for the best results. And don’t forget to invite me.
Free Your Inner Fry,
For more reading, check out Wilson’s latest…his review of “Oiling of America” and his article entitled “Skinny on Fats” are outstanding! And here was a summertime blog recipe for fried onion blossom fritters.
Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice. You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes. Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.
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