Chinese Cooking Techniques: Deep-Frying
"Let me leap out of the
frying pan into the fire; or, out of God's blessing into the warm sun."
(Cervantes, Don Quixote)
There's no doubt that stir-frying is the most colorful and well-known Chinese cooking technique. However, many Chinese dishes call for the food to be deep-fried. In fact, the use of deep-frying, or Chau, in Chinese cooking predates stir-frying, which was developed mainly to cope with a shortage of cooking oil.
But what exactly is deep-frying? Basically, it's a technique in which food is cooked by submerging it in a bath of hot liquid fat. As with all aspects of cooking, the Chinese are quite creative in their use of deep-frying. In the west we tend to think of deep fried foods as having been dipped in batter prior to cooking. The Chinese employ this method to prepare certain dishes, such as Ginger Beef. However, deep-frying may also be a way of adding crispness to a dish that has already been cooked by another method, such as Tea Smoked Duck. On the other hand, some recipes call for an item to be deep-fried in the initial stages of cooking, as when a fish is deep-fried and then steamed.
Should it be deep frying or deep-fry? Join our forum discussion here.
Deep-frying has gotten a bad rap in recent years. In today's health conscious society, people associate it with clogged arteries, not to mention a stove decorated with unwanted oil splatters. Here is a step-by-step process designed to make deep-frying easier, and to help reduce the fat content:
Ten Tips for Deep-Frying:
How do I put the food into the wok? Be careful to slide foods in to prevent splattering. Also, add ingredients in small amounts and don't overcrowd the wok. Overcrowding will lower the temperature and may lead to splattering or spillage.
What is a good temperature for deep-frying? It depends on the recipe, but most suggest you heat the oil to somewhere between 350 degrees and 375 degrees Fahrenheit. (Partly this depends on the size of the food being cooked, as larger items can be deep-fried at a lower temperature). Remember, though, the temperature will drop slightly when you put in the food.
What type of oil should I use for deep-frying? Peanut oil is good, as are other vegetable oils. Chinese recipes used to call for lard, but most don't anymore because of the fat content. One of the advantages of peanut oil is that it does not burn easily even at high temperatures. Sesame oil, on the other hand, is not used for frying as it has a low smoking point.
How much oil should I add? Most recipes will call for a specific amount of oil, although some just list "oil for deep-frying," under the ingredients, while others give a range such as 2 to 4 cups. How much oil to add depends on the item being deep-fried. Basically, you need enough to make sure that it is submerged completely. To be safe, however, it's important to leave several inches clear at the top of the wok, as the oil level will rise when the food is dropped in.
How can I tell when the oil is hot enough? The easiest way is to use a
deep-fry thermometer. In The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking, Barbara Tropp
recommends a dial-type deep-fry thermometer with a kettle clamp that can be clamped to the
side of the wok. The advantage of this type of thermometer is that you don't need to hold
it at all.
How can I reduce splattering? The food you are going to deep-fry should be at room temperature. This reduces the drop in the temperature of the oil when you put it in, lessening the chance of splattering. You might want to dry the food with a paper towel. If the food to be deep-fried is in a sauce, use a slotted spoon to let it drain before adding it to the wok. Similarly, if the food is batter-coated, make sure all the excess batter has dripped off before placing it in the hot oil.
What if the recipe calls for the food to be deep-fried twice? This is a method commonly used in restaurants with dishes such as ginger beef - they will cook a batch and then re-cook a portion when a customer orders the dish. This gives the food a crisper coating. Make sure to retest the temperature of the oil before you deep-fry a second time.
Can I reuse cooking oil? Yes, you can reuse cooked oil up to five times (five may be stretching it a bit). Just let the oil cool, strain it and store in the refrigerator. When the oil is no longer usable the color will darken and it may start to smell rancid. Oil smoking at normal temperatures is another sign that it has gone bad.
How can I reduce the amount of fat? First, by keeping the temperature up. Food cooked at too low a temperature will be greasy. Secondly, by not overcrowding the wok, which again lowers the temperature, leading to greasy food. Finally, using a wok actually helps - the unique shape of the wok means that you use less oil to cook with than is the case with a deep-fat fryer.
A large Chinese wire mesh spoon (also called a "skimmer") is invaluable for moving the food to and from the wok, and maneuvering it while deep-frying.
This Week's Recipes
Deep-fried Walnut Chicken
Kung Pao Chicken
Need some help with stir-frying? You'll find several helpful hints in "Twenty Tips for Stir-frying."
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