In all my past attempts at deep frying, my results have ranged from mediocre to fail. Not that I've made many attempts. But this time I succeeded! This time everything was under control and the Taiwanese pork chops (豬排 zhupai) were tasty.
First and foremost: get a thermometer (that can handle deep fry temperatures).
I know, you don't have to have one and there are other tricks like sticking a bamboo chopstick into the oil and seeing if the oil bubbles around it, flicking water and seeing if it dances, or dropping a bit a dough in and seeing if it sizzles and then floats. The problem is that these are imprecise. You don't know if it's too hot, and it's hard to track the temperature once you've put in the food and the food's all bubbling while the temperature of the oil drops. With the thermometer it's also easier to kick up the heat to high to get the oil to the right temperature more quickly and then turn things down while you fry.
The first time I tried making these pork chops, I didn't have a thermometer. The first pork chop was fine, the second one okay, and the third was blackened. Well, the skin was blackened while the meat was okay, but I ended up melting the slotted spoon I was using. This was toward the beginning of the year so I don't really remember the details, but I probably turned up the heat to get things moving and the oil kept heating up as I fried subsequent pieces of pork. In fact, I think this was probably also the issue the last time (2 times?), which was the first time I tried deep frying, several years ago. I remember an abundance of blackened crumbs in the oil, which were not present this time around. Though, actually, that was probably partially because of the panko breading that time, versus flour this time.
Other than the thermometer: some tools are better to use than others.
Tongs are handy for larger food, like pork chops. Last time I dropped them in with cooking chopsticks. This is fine, but because of the smaller contact area, chopsticks will probably disturb the coating on your food more than tongs, and certainly a metal strainer, will, since you'll have to squeeze harder. A slotted spoon should be just fine, too--but it's probably best to use a metal one, even if the heat resistance is claimed to be high enough.
On to the photos!
Haha, hmm... So the one at 11 o'clock was the first one to deep fry. From there, the visual progression is pretty clear to 3 o'clock and then 12 o'clock. The bottom two I just pan fried after the chop-blackening and spoon-melting. It's hard to see in this pic, but the spoon is warped and rough in texture at the tip. For 11 o'clock, the oil probably wasn't quite hot enough. For 3 o'clock a little hot. And for 12 o'clock, too hot.
Much better! The chops are golden brown and all of them more consistently cooked. The only thing is that the skin could have been crisper than it was. I'm not sure about why this is. Maybe it's because the chops I used were a little thicker than the recipe called for. Maybe I should have gone for 370 F and let the chops cook while the oil cooled down to 350 F (which was the temperature the recipe called for), rather than 360 F down to 340 F. Maybe it's the recipe. I don't know. Regardless, the chops were delicious. The juiciness and tenderness of freshly deep fried meat that hasn't been cooked for too long is the best!
Mmmm. The sauce is ketchup, oyster sauce, and a little sesame oil. Delicious!
This recipe is from Martin Yan, who apparently was a big deal around the time I was a little kid, hosting a cooking show on PBS, Yan Can Cook, for a long time. He's still active, though I think he spends more time in Asia, now. I ate it with shredded cabbage, in the style of Japanese tonkatsu, though I don't think that's standard.