Monday, May 25, 2015

Deep-Frying Fun

I know, I've said I'm loathe to deep-fry because of the large amount of oil required, but that was what much of my cooking experiments centered around this long weekend. I got drawn into it by circumstances: shallow-frying stepping stone from the Brussels sprouts I recently did a couple runs of, followed by a sale on good chicken thighs at the local co-op, which reminded me of a Taiwanese popcorn chicken (the dish pictured above is called yansu ji, or salty crispy chicken) recipe I wanted to try, which led me to think of other things I've wanted to try out. But it's not that I dislike deep-frying as a technique, just that I avoid it for practical concerns. (A deep-fry/candy/oven roast thermometer is your friend.)

The yansu ji came out great. I used a mix of potato starch and cornmeal, which was light and crisp with nice bits of crunch from the larger cornmeal granules. Not sure about the Thai basil I used, though; it just lost all flavor after frying, though perfectly crisp. Maybe Thai basil's too delicate and using Italian basil would have been better?

But the potato starch (which is fairly common in East Asian cooking, instead of corn starch. They behave a little differently but can generally be substituted in dredging and thickening applications) got me thinking to try making agedashi tofu.

Lovely! --but the crisp exterior wasn't quite right. I used purely potato starch and it had more body than is ideal. It had too much presence, overpowering the soft insides. I wonder if maybe just cornstarch would work better. It's interesting that it behaved so differently on the tofu versus the chicken. I noticed, though, that with the chicken, after resting a bit in the potato starch dredge, the surface of the chicken pieces were properly dry. With the tofu, however, a bit of a thick paste/gum formed with the starch, which probably led to the too-strong skins. Maybe I just needed more thorough pressing and drying. Or not to wait too long between dredging and frying.

Heheh, also notice the fail in the background of the first tofu pic. Turns out that rather than loading up a slotted spoon and lowering the tofu in that way, you should just gently place them in the oil with chopsticks or tongs; they'll stick to the slotted spoon immediately when the starch hits the hot oil. Maybe with a wire or mesh deep-frying strainer/spoon it'd be different?

And one more thing: I also tried deep-frying taro fries. Double-frying works great on taro fries, same as potato fries. Some claim that double-frying gets results impossible with single-frying (Kenji Lopez-Alt is hardly the only one), but I'm confused as to why this would be so. Does the rest period do something that just turning up the heat in the middle of a longer frying time wouldn't do? America's Test Kitchen has an approach where you just start the potato fries in cold oil and do one long single fry, which makes me think that a standard single fry with a step up in heat would work, too, so I dunno. I'll have to try it another time.

Thing is, though, as deep-frying tends to do, I felt that the taro lost a lot of its distinctive flavor. Maybe this is why at dim sum restaurants they do taro balls--so that there's a larger interior portion that steams and keeps its taro flavor. Hmm...but anyway, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, fried starchy sticks? No complaints here!


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