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The Cookstr 10: Ten Recipes to Fry, Fry Again

February 24, 2011

Why is fried food just so irresistible? We are fully onboard with the concept of moderation; we understand the pitfalls of too much of anything. But moderation does not equal abstention or austerity, and therefore we’d like to take a moment to lean towards the indulgent side of the sliding scale that is moderation, and talk about fried food. Crunchy, crispy, possibly lightly greasy, sometimes salty, sometimes sweet, melt-in-your-mouth fried food. (Now we’ve worked ourselves up a bit.)

Sharon Crayton's Fried Eggplant with Lemon Wedges

We promise that we aren’t making all of these dishes in one day, or even in one month. We like and know the importance of our clean food and our salads and our whole grains. And we know that a little fried food goes a long way–there’s no reason to throw moderation out the window. But every once in a while the call of the fried just can’t be ignored, and we have to answer. Fry until golden. Sigh.

Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner's Vegetable Tempura

A few tips:

-Make sure your oil is the right temperature: too high, and food will burn; too low, and it won’t get crispy, and the coating may fall off.

-Watch for splattering: few things are hotter than hot oil, so skip the tank top (and grab an apron; oil is hard to get out of clothes).

-Don’t crowd the pan: giving the food room to fry will allow it to crisp up properly, and also help keep the temperature of the oil nice and high.

-Don’t leave the stove: frying food can go from perfectly golden to burned pretty quickly.

-Drain it properly: let excess oil drip back into the cooking pan, and in most cases a few layers of paper towels on a plate soak up any extra grease.

-Serve immediately: most fried food does not improve with standing around (though hand us a cold leftover fried chicken drumstick and we’ll happily acknowledge the exception that proves the rule).

Christopher Idone's Hush Puppies

All across the country, all around the world, people are frying up foods in oil, and we’re in the mood to go globe-trotting.

1. Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s Sweet Potato Fries. French fries (“pomes frites” in France, “chips” in England) are hard to beat for a fried food longing, and sweet potato fries are in a craving class of their own. There’s not much to making these; just nice slabs of sweet potatoes, some oil, and some salt, and then the dipping condiment of your choice (or not…these are pretty spectacular all by their lonesome).

2. John Mariani’s Mozzarella in Carrozza. Essentially a fried cheese sandwich, these are often found in the appetizer section of Italian-American menus. Fresh mozzarella is layered between two slices of bread, the sandwiches are dipped in flour, then an egg-and-milk mixture, and finally coated with breadcrumbs. And then the frying begins. Serve hot, with marinara sauce for dipping.

3. Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner’s Vegetable Tempura. Tempura is the most well-know fried food hailing from Japan, and it’s admired for the delicate puffy batter that encases the vegetables inside. Icy cold water mixed with flour and an egg yolk are the secrets to this recipe, and of course you can’t have tempura without the salty-sweet dipping sauce.

4. Michele Scicolone’s Batter-Fried Shrimp and Calamari. The Italians really know how to fry their seafood, and squid and shrimp are two of the most popular crustaceans. These are dipped in a light, airy batter made with yeast and eggs, which puffs up when it hits the oil.

5. Pat and Gina Neely’s Spicy Fried Chicken. Fried chicken is enjoyed all over the world, but down South fried chicken is taken as seriously as…well, let’s just say very seriously. This recipe calls for coating the chicken in dry spices first, which really seasons up the meat. Then a dunk in buttermilk and a dredge in seasoned flour make this the kind of fried chicken one dreams of encountering in the best kind of roadside restaurants. Another entry into the most-fun-foods-we-know category.

6. Laurent Tourondel’s Crispy Maryland Soft-Shell Crabs with Chili-Garlic Dressing. Soft-shell crab season is but weeks away, and the bounty of young crabs coming to market may be one of the most keenly awaited spring delicacies out there. Here, the crabs are dipped in a mixture of egg and coconut milk, then encrusted in rice flour before being fried up. Then they get coated with a crazy-delicious dressing popping with hoisin sauce, chili-garlic paste, and a bit of fish sauce and citrus.

7. Sharon Crayton’s Fried Eggplant with Lemon Wedges. To be dunked in egg, then flour, and fried up until encased in a crackling crust is one of the nicest things that can happen to a slice of eggplant. The contrast of the crisp exterior and meltingly soft interior is a real treat.

8. Marcus Samuelsson’s Vegetable Fritters with Chile Mayonnaise. This is a great blueprint recipe because you can work with whatever vegetables are in season to customize your fritters. The creamy, spicy mayonnaise is a textural counterpoint to the fritters, though the batter also has quite a bit of flavor and punch from a zesty, fusion-ey mixture of herbs and spices.

9. Christopher Idone’s Hush Puppies. The name alone makes us happy and hungry. Again, with origins in the Southern parts of the U.S., where fried food is part of the culinary fabric, these are pretty much just fried dollops of cornbread batter. These little cuties are spiked with chopped jalapeno, scallions, and cayenne, so there’s a bit of heat in every bite.

10. Regan Daley’s Buttermilk Nutmeg Drop Doughnuts. Every culture has some kind of sweet fritter or doughnut or beignet or zeppole or…well, a sweet fritter of sorts. Nutmeg is the spice that says “doughnut” to most Americans, and buttermilk is another classic doughnut ingredient that imparts tenderness and flavor. These don’t rely on yeast to make them rise; baking powder and baking soda are the leavening here, so the batter comes together in just about the same amount of time as it takes the oil to heat up. They get finished with a quick roll in cinnamon sugar for crunch.

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