05-Setting Up

Serves: 5



Mise en place is the French technique of preparing and assembling all the ingredients and utensils necessary to cook a dish before you start. It's a great procedure for any kind of cooking, but, boy, is it ever important with deep-frying. Nothing is worse than being ready to remove pieces of food from the deep fryer, only to find that you don't have a place to drain them.

First, make sure you have a way to transfer the food from the work area to the stove. A waxed paper-lined baking sheet is the easiest way for the food to make the trip from one spot to another.

You will also need a surface on which the fried food will be drained. A baking sheet lined with paper towels or brown paper bags is called for in some recipes. Other foods need to be elevated on a wire. cake rack when draining, to keep steam from collecting under the coating and turning the crisp exterior soggy. This mimics the way restaurants drain deep-fried foods in wire baskets. Since the food doesn't touch any flat surfaces, it will stay crisper longer. To make a draining area, place a large wire cake rack over a jelly roll pan or sided baking sheet to hold the dripping oil. A large cake rack (mine is 16 1/2 by 13 inches) works best, or you can overlap two smaller cake racks.

A large wire-mesh skimmer is the best tool for retrieving deep-fried food. Slotted spoons tend to hold too much oil. Skimmers are available in a variety of sizes at Asian housewares stores and most Western kitchenware shops. (I bought my favorite one at a flea market in Tuscany, where they do a lot of deep-frying.)

Deep-frying baskets are fine when you are deep-frying a small amount of food. But don't be tempted to fill up the basket, as too much food will cause the fat temperature to drop too rapidly. Dip the basket in the fat first, then add the food, to keep the food from cooking right onto the basket.

Temperature control is one of the most important factors of deep-frying, as there are optimum temperatures for different foods. Always use the temperature suggested in each recipe. A deep-frying thermometer will make this task much simpler. Of all the different types of deep-frying thermometers (including glass tube-encased thermometers, and spring-operated dials with metal stems), my favorite is a mercury thermometer attached to a metal plaque (the plaque keeps the bottom of the thermometer stem from touching the bottom of the pot, which would give an inaccurate reading). No matter what type of thermometer you use, be sure it has a clip for attaching onto the pot. And never keep a thermometer in hot fat longer than necessary-if the fat overheats, the thermometer could crack and the mercury will contaminate the fat.

If you are without a thermometer, the fat can be tested by adding a bread cube. If the bread cube browns in 1 minute, the temperature is about 350°F. Chinese cooks insert wooden chopsticks into the oil-if tiny bubbles surround the ends of the chopsticks, the oil is about 375°F. Also, when the fat is hot enough, the surface will shimmer slightly. But, a thermometer is always the most reliable choice.

As soon as the fat reaches the right temperature, add the food. It is important to carefully add the food to the hot fat so it doesn't splash. Never crowd food in the pot. The pieces should swim in the fat without touching. It is much better to cook the food in batches than all at once. If you're cooking on a stove, keep the heat on high to return the fat to its optimum cooking temperature, as it will have dropped from the addition of the food. And always allow the fat to return to the proper temperature before adding the next batch.

When you're ready to fry, preheat the oven to its lowest setting (anywhere from 150° to 200°F) to keep the first batch warm while frying the remaining food. After the first batch is drained, transfer the jelly roll pan, with the food on it, to the warm oven. Most fried food loses its appeal when it cools, and should be served as hot as possible. In fact, many cooks serve fried food one batch at a time, just as it comes out of the pot. This works well for people with an eat-in kitchen, but may be impractical for others.

Deep-frying on the stove does cause cooking odors, but the problem can be minimized (most electric fryers have odor filters). When I deep-fry in my loft, I run the air conditioner and the stove exhaust. When I cooked some of these recipes at my parents' home, whose California kitchen has large sliding doors leading outside, we just opened the doors wide to get good cross ventilation. My friend Harriet has the ultimate solution. She cooks in her electric deep-fryer outside on her backyard table.

This 05-Setting Up recipe is from the Fried & True: Crispy and Delicious Dishes from Appetizers to Desserts Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.

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