Follow our guide to making crispy foods safely and successfully.
1. When cooking with hot oil, safety is important. Be sure your wok or pan is stable before you add the oil or shortening to it. After the oil is heated, you dont want any hot oil spills. The best oil for frying is a clear, relatively flavorless oil that can be heated to a very high temperature without smoking. Although peanut oil is favored by many Oriental cooks, corn, cottonseed, and other vegetable oils work just as well. When you add the oil to your wok or 3-quart saucepan, measure at the deepest point. An adequate amount of oil or melted shortening for frying most foods is 1-1/2 to 2 inches (about 4 cups). This amount allows enough room to add the food.
2. For perfectly fried foods, it is critical to keep the oil at the correct temperature. Maintaining a constant oil temperature produces food that is moist inside and golden outside. Oil that is too hot burns the outside of the food and leaves the inside underdone. On the other hand, oil that is not hot enough cooks food more slowly and causes the food to retain more grease. Before cooking, heat the oil to the temperature indicated in the recipe; in most cases it's 365 degree F or 375 degree F. Use a deep-fat frying thermometer to help take the guesswork out of monitoring the frying temperature. Even with electric woks, which have thermostats, you'll need to use a thermometer to monitor the temperature. As the thermostat cycles on and off, the temperature can fluctuate several degrees.
3. When frying foods, make sure the pieces are uniform in size. Foods the same size cook in approximately the same amount of time. Also, be sure to add just a few pieces of food at a time to the hot oil. Too much food in the hot oil at one time will lower its temperature and the food will take longer to cook. To minimize splattering, gently lower the food into the oil using a wire-mesh strainer or slotted spoon. This helps reduce the chance of burning your hands.
4. When the food is done, use a wire-mesh strainer or slotted spoon to remove it from the hot oil. To drain, place the food on a wok rack or paper towels. If you have more food to fry, place the cooked food in a baking pan and keep it warm in a 300 degree F oven until serving time. Between batches of frying, allow the oil to reheat to its original temperature. Also, skim away bits of food that may have broken off during frying before they have a chance to burn.
- Any type of wok will work for frying foods, but a flat-bottom wok is the most stable and this reduces the chances of tipping and spilling. If you want to use a round-bottom wok, make sure the ring stand is sturdy and the wok sits in it tightly. If you don't own a wok or are using it for another part of your meal, use a 3-quart saucepan for frying.
- A deep-fat frying thermometer helps you monitor the proper frying temperature. Use a long flat thermometer like the one pictured on page 10. Or, use any deep-fat frying thermometer that will clip on the side of the wok with its bulb in the oil but not touching the pan itself. Candy thermometers that register up to 400 degree F can double as deep-fat frying thermometers.
- Use a wire-mesh strainer or a slotted spoon with a long handle to remove from the hot oil. They let the oil drain off, allowing you to remove just the food. If you don't have a wire-mesh strainer or slotted spoon, use wooden or metal tongs. When using tongs, it is important to work quickly because you can only remove one piece of food at a time.
- Drain fried foods on a wok rack or on several layers of paper towels. Some woks come with a semi-circular or doughnut-shape wire rack that fits over the edges of the wok, allowing the excess fat from the food to drip back into the wok.
- For fresh flavor in fried foods, use new cooking oil or shortening. However, if you wish to reuse the cooking oil or shortening after it's been used once, allow it to cool enough to handle safely.
- For cooking oil, strain it through a paper coffee filter set in a metal strainer or through a double thickness of 100 percent cotton cheesecloth. Refrigerate strained oil in a covered jar and use within a few days. When you reuse the oil, add an extra amount of fresh oil to help avoid smoking and possible flare-ups.
- For shortening, strain as directed for oil. Then, refrigerate it in a covered container and use within a few days. When you reuse shortening, it's not necessary to add an equal amount of fresh shortening.