Deep fried food is quite tasty. I’m hard pressed to find ways in which it’s thrifty, but they do exist. Deep frying is unhealthy if you’re using poor quality (often cheap) oil that contains trans fats. My thinking is that one ought to avoid deep frying, for the sake of thrift, until they’ve built up a store of fat that they acquired by rendering the fat from meats that they’ve cooked; duck, for example. Duck is underused in western culture. Much healthier than chicken, a whole duck offers a wide variety of potential dishes. Beyond this, properly butchering the duck will free up a lot of extra fat. This fat can then be rendered or cooked down slowly into liquid fat, and then cooled and stored in the fridge for later use.
So, imagine this, you talk to your new butcher friend and he tips you off on some very cheap, top quality ducks. The catch is that you have to buy five ducks. Some of you are thinking that this is too much food to store. Not so. Your new found butchery knowledge will lead you to ‘break down’ the ducks into their parts: legs, breasts, wings, bodies, and FAT. The legs can be wrapped and frozen for later use or braised right away and kept in the fridge for about a week. The breasts can be wrapped and frozen or used up at dinner – lovely meat. The bodies and wings can be put in a pot and made into stock, which can be made into soup or used to braise the legs. And the clean, white fat can be rendered down and used for DEEP FRYING. Now, you could have just bought a big tub of oil at the grocer, but that isn’t thrifty; the oil is expensive and though it’s good for many uses, if treated and stored correctly, it does not compare to duck fat in its quality, flavor, and shelf life. So let’s stick with the example.
You now have about 5 liters of duck fat, even if you didn’t want to use this for deep frying fat you could use it for general frying for about a year, stored in your fridge or freezer (put it in 1 liter containers, freeze four and keep one in the fridge). But, this section is about deep frying so let’s get into it. You will need a 3 to 5 quart (liter) pot for your fat (preferably one with a thick bottom), a plate covered with newspaper (thrifty!) to place the fried food so that the fat drains, a slotted spoon, pair of tongs, or chop sticks (if you’re good with them) and you could use a thermometer to help you to get a handle on the required temperature.
To start, choose your cooking oil carefully. Oils with high ‘smoke points,’ in other words, those which do not break down at deep frying temperatures, are best. Peanut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil are some good choices for frying but they are by far the most unhealthy choices and getting sick is not thrifty. Duck fat is going to be the best tasting and most thrifty choice or I would even highly recommend beef tallow that you can prepare yourself by buying or acquiring beef fat and rendering it like you did the duck fat (it may be free from your butcher friend if he has no use for it).
Add oil to your thick bottomed, cold pan leaving a head space, or space at the top of the pan, of at least two inches. This space acts as a safety margin for when the oil bubbles up as the food is added.
Make sure that the food you’re going to fry is dry: let it sit on newspaper (or even use an old dish towel), or coat it in flour or bread crumbs to ensure there isn’t excess moisture. If you’ve breaded your food then let it sit on a wire rack for 20 to 30 minutes so that the coating dries and sets.
Begin heating the oil over medium high heat. If you have a deep frying thermometer, use it! The best temperature for frying is 350 to 375 degrees F. If you don’t have a thermometer, the oil is ready when a 1” cube of white bread dropped into the oil browns in 60 seconds; that oil temperature will be about 365 degrees F.
Don’t overcrowd the pan! Carefully add the food, leaving lots of space around each piece so the food will cook evenly. If you add too much food at once, the oil temperature will drop and the food will absorb fat instead of instantly searing.
Watch the food carefully as it cooks, regulating the heat if necessary to keep that oil temperature between 350 and 375 degrees F. Your first batches of fried foods can be kept warm in a 200 degrees F oven until all the food is fried – but this requires more energy...
Oil and water DO NOT MIX!! Keep water away from the hot oil. If you pour water on the oil, the mixture will explode. If the oil smokes or catches fire, cover it with the lid of a pan or a cookie sheet. You can use baking soda to put out grease fires, but be careful that you don’t spread the flames around.
I always keep a fire extinguisher in my kitchen, just in case. Learn how to use it NOW, before you may need it.
When you’re finished and the fat has cooled down, strain it through a fine strainer with either a coffee filter or two layers of paper towel. This will clarify the oil and make it last much longer. This is an important, thrifty step!
Food for Thought:
Again, as yummy as the results may be, deep frying is only thrifty if you can get an inexpensive source of high quality oil or use oil that you have collected from previous cooking. If not, don’t even bother with the technique.