There are many different deep fryers available, from fancy electric models to tried-and-true standbys like woks and cast-iron Dutch ovens. They all work, but some are better suited for certain jobs than others. There are two issues to consider when choosing a deep fryer: the pot's capacity and its ability to hold heat well.
The fryer should be at least 6 inches deep, allowing it to be filled one third to halfway full with 2 to 3 inches of fat so that the food can literally swim in it. "Deep" frying, get it? Food will fry best and absorb less fat if it is completely immersed. One of the most common deep-frying mistakes occurs when the cook doesn't use enough fat. Don't fill the pot more than halfway full, however, to allow for the inevitable bubbling that occurs when food is added. I estimate 3 pounds of shortening or 212 quarts of oil for most frying jobs. Some foods, by contrast, are best cooked in a skillet, which should be at least 2 to 3 inches deep-enough to hold at least 1 inch of fat. Both deep fryers and skillets should be large if food is crowded in a too small utensil, the food will give off too much steam and end up soggy, not crisp.
When the fat reaches its proper temperature, the food is added, which makes the fat temperature drop. Thus the pot should be heavy and made of a thick metal that absorbs and holds heat and allows the temperature to rise again. If the fryer is electric, it should have enough wattage to drive the temperature back up. Following are some of the various containers for frying:
ELECTRIC DEEP FRYERS: Electric deep fryers are great for the cook who deep-fries fairly often. Their biggest attraction is a special filter that soaks up deep-frying odors (some of the filters are easier to remove than others, so check out this feature out before buying). One manufacturer has a basket that rotates in and out of the oil, an action that supposedly cuts down on oil absorption. Some have windows in their lids to allow the cook to see the cooking food (although I find that the steam released during cooking clouds up the windows). Deep fryers with nonstick interiors are easiest to clean, but be sure they don't have any hidden nooks and crannies, or as soon as you add fat, the crumbs hiding in the crevices will come floating to the top.
Keep in mind that most electric fryers have a relatively small capacity. They work best for bite-sized foods such as hors d'oeuvres, shrimp, and cookies. Most models would be hard-pressed to deep-fry an entire chicken. As for power, choose a fryer with the highest wattage possible to allow for the quickest heating of the fat and the fastest temperature recovery after food has been added. On the other hand, if you have older electrical wiring where you live, you may want a lower-wattage fryer, so you don't overload your circuit breaker if you are sharing the outlet with another appliance.
ELECTRIC MULTI-COOKERS: Multi-cookers have adjustable electric thermostats that allow the pot to be used for a variety of cooking methods. While I originally bought my multi-cooker to use as a slow cooker (it also braises, simmers, and boils), I use it most often as a deep fryer. Multi-cookers are less bulky than electric deep fryers, but they do not have the odor-absorbing filters that are so useful.
WOKS: Deep-frying is important in Asian cuisine. What would Chinese food be without its egg rolls, wontons, and other crispy treats? Woks make excellent deep fryers. They have a wide, deep cooking area that allows oil to heat up quickly, and the shape encourages heat to travel up the sides and stabilize the oil temperature. For deep-frying, be sure to use a flat-bottomed wok, not a rounded one that sits on a ring. The flat-bottomed wok is more stable and comes in better contact with the heat source to maintain the fat's temperature. Most Chinese cooks recommend that the wok be heated until very hot before adding oil, believing that the oil heats more quickly when added to a hot pan. It is hard to use a deep-frying thermometer with a wok instead you may need to check the temperature of the fat with a cube of bread or chopsticks (see "Setting Up," below). While I do not like electric woks for stir-frying because they don't get as hot as stove-top models, they make fine deep fryers.
SKILLETS: Some thin foods can be deep-fried in 1 inch of hot fat in a skillet. The skillet must be at least 2 or 3 inches deep. Cast-iron skillets are preferred, as they hold heat best. Never wash a cast-iron skillet with soap and water-just sprinkle the inside with a handful of coarse salt, and wipe it out with wads of paper towels. Electric skillets aren't good deep fryers, as they just aren't deep enough.
DUTCH OVENS: My favorite deep-frying pot is as-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. It holds a 3-pound can of melted vegetable shortening to make a deep pool for frying food properly, heats up quickly over high heat, and keeps fat at the desired temperature, thanks to its thick, heat-absorbent walls. Uncoated cast-iron pots also work well. If you don't have cast iron, use a heavy pot with a minimum 4-quart capacity. Anything smaller will crowd the food and lead to soggy disaster.
This 03-Utensil Central recipe is from the Fried & True: Crispy and Delicious Dishes from Appetizers to Desserts Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.
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