Do You Want Fries with Those Fries?

A food story for the health conscious connoisseur.

Deep-fried food rules the cooking world.  Do you cook it?  Do you just love it? If so, keep reading.  I cook it and love eating it.  Deep-frying is one of the best cooking methods ever conceived (tied with slow cooked barbeque).  It’s my own personal adventure in the kitchen.  There must be something about the risk of third degree burns while cooking that calls to me. 

Ordinary food is transformed through this unique cooking process.  Once you get to know the length of time you need to cook the various foods you enjoy it is practically guaranteed that everything you cook will taste fantastic.  Oil heated to 350 degrees will produce chicken tenders in less than five minutes.  My kids (and guests) have little patience for long drawn out oven-cooked meals on Friday and Saturday nights. 

There is something intoxicating about battered and fried chicken wings.  They call to me—all too frequently.  Almost any food can be deep-fried and successfully so I might add.  In addition to chicken I fry pork chops and steak (hammered thin), fish, shrimp, calamari, clams, oysters, mozzarella, and vegetables—especially green tomatoes.  Onion rings are a royal pain to do right, but my how delicious when done properly.  Don’t you hate it when you get onion rings in a restaurant and the whole onion comes out with the first bite?  That never happens in my fry kitchen. 

The Potato is the absolute king of deep fry—hands down.  The first deep fried food most of us ever eat is the potato chip—and we never stop.  I use a mandolin to slice my own potato chips and waffle chips.  I also have an industrial grade wall mounted French fry cutter (can you say “kitchen gadget geek?”) and can run five potatoes through in less than thirty seconds to make enough fries for a mob of hungry teenagers.  There is indeed a secret to making French fries from scratch.  Shockingly, most restaurants have no clue how to make crispy fries (I exclude fast food joints that start with frozen fries “manufactured” with a spray coating of potato—yeah, that’s how they get them so crispy).  Ever get fries that look good, but have a leathery skin on them with not even a hint of  “crispy?”  Those fries got tossed in once and are cooked, but not done right.  Frying proper French fries is a two-step process that involves lovingly immersing them in 375 degree oil and then removing them from the oil and letting them sit for a bit before tossing them back in.  The good people at Five Guys know just what I’m talking about.

I don’t know if there is any better food experience than getting a variety of different foods to deep-fry and just cooking one thing after another and trying different batter methods—egg wash then bread crumbs—wet batter then dry coating—just a dry dusting—you get the idea.  Some foods that taste like cr#p cooked any other way are simply delicious when deep-fried.  Exhibit A on that list is the eggplant.  Most of us know it as hideous vegetarian torture food.  However, when peeled, sliced to 1/8th of an inch thick, battered and fried, it is transformed into a crispy chip that will make you sing--especially when drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction.  

Many fruits are fantastic deep-fried.  Try peeling an apple and then slice it like you are going to serve it to the kids, but then dip each piece into pancake batter and drop them into your handy dandy countertop fryer at 325 degrees until golden brown.  You will end up with bite-sized apple pies—no joke—it is a great dessert.  Speaking of dessert, I tried deep-frying Twinkies and do not recommend that at all.  My first effort resulted in a crispy outside but the inside was sort of a room temperature Twinkie—nothing special.  One might argue that I ruined a perfectly good Twinkie.  I then tried cooking one longer and transformed the Twinkie into a pudding consistency that can only be described as “Twinkie lava.”  Yeah, I was peeling dead skin off the roof of my mouth for a week.  Please, spare me any suggestions as to how I can do it properly—I’m done with Twinkies.

At this point you are dying for some deep-fried food or you are getting ready to scorch me with a comment about how “unhealthy” it is to eat so much deep-fried food.  Well, let me note that I only use Canola (Rapeseed) oil that has no cholesterol whatsoever.  Yes, if you eat enough of it you will be a fat blob—but a fat blob with no heart disease.  Again, please no comments about how chicken skin is loaded with fat.  Those of us who deep-fry know that when chicken skin comes into contact with blue cheese dressing it becomes a health food beyond compare.  Trust me, it is simple chemistry.  I always tell my health conscious friends “It tastes good and it’s good for you.”  Thus far, I have never had an argument on the subject with a recipient of one of my wings.

I am a huge fan of Adam Richman’s “Man VS. Food” program on the Travel Channel and recreate many of the recipes that he has devoured for our entertainment.  My son and his friends are particularly fond of the “Fat Daryl” grinder.  Just imagine battered and deep-fried chicken strips, mozzarella sticks and French fries slathered in marinara sauce on a grinder roll.  Silence reigns in the kitchen when the Fat Daryl is served (Ben? Henry? Are you reading this?).  One of my more interesting creations (I believe I am the only one to ever attempt this recipe—please hold your applause) is deep fried pizza.  You read that right, deep fried pizza.  I start with a cold or room temperature piece of pizza, cut off the crust, dip it into a nice thick batter and immediately drop it into the fryer for a minute or two—turning it over half way through.  Wow, that is some mighty satisfying calories. 

Every good deep-fry chef has a turkey fryer for huge batches of fries, wings, whole chickens and, of course, turkeys.  Unless you live next to the fire department use one of those rigs away from the house and on nice solid ground.  The only person I know who claims she dislikes deep-fried turkey on Thanksgiving is my dear old Mother.  Perhaps it’s because she does a traditional oven baked turkey and labors over it for hours.  Then an hour before dinner is served I drop a fifteen to twenty pound bird in my fryer and produce the best turkey you will ever eat.  The look on poor Mom’s face is so sad as everyone keeps asking, “Is there any more deep-fried turkey?”  Can you blame her?

I guess I should share the one downside to deep-frying—cleaning up.  I can assure you that no one has ever volunteered to help with that task and I have never even successfully recruited a helper.  Folks, it’s a lonely existence at the top of the cooking world.  Please stay tuned for my next report about “Avoid gaining fifty pounds by simply staying away from Phil Dunn’s house.”

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Jeff Hogan March 26, 2012 at 06:37 PM
I enjoyed your post Phil. I think that you should take a baby aspirin daily.
Mike Clark March 26, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Phil, As a one time resident of Texas, you have not lived until you try a chicken fried steak. YUM! Cholesterol heaven!
Bill Stanford March 26, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Mike, Have you ever been to the State Fair of Texas? Growing up in Dallas, it was a joy to get my annual State Fair Corny Dog fried in front of me. This Fall, I was able to go and tried "Chicken Fried Bacon" with ranch dressing. They even had Fried Bubble Gum!!!
Phil Dunn March 26, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Mike, I do indeed prepare chicken fried steak--with sausage gravy no less. Served with a bottle a baby aspirin.


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