Who doesn't enjoy fried food? We all know it's not good for us, but there is no denying that it's delicious. Like salt, dropping almost anything edible into hot oil seems to enhance its flavor. Today with Jeff Fournier we took a parade of vegetables and proteins for a swim in the kitchen's two fryolators.
The first items to take a dunk in the deep-fat were obvious—potatoes. Good ol' fries, thicker English-style pub fries, and a tricolored medley of thickly sliced new potatoes were first blanched in oil (the pub fries in water) at 250 degrees. Then they were transferred to 350-degree oil for the final cooking. The two-step process ensures that the spuds are tender and fluffy on the inside with a golden crisp exterior. The stainless steel vats at BU are filled with canola oil, a standard medium for most restaurants. But chef Fournier discussed the benefits of alternative fats like peanut oil, coconut oil, and the most coveted of all, duck fat. Whatever the cooking medium, anything savory that comes out of the fryer receives a generous sprinkling of kosher salt. It's the final flavor boost that puts the crave factor over the edge.
After crisping up numerous potatoes, sliced pickles, and pickled cauliflower (made in class 2 weeks ago), we transitioned to cod that was beer batter dipped and fried using the "swimming" technique. Instead of dropping the whole piece immediately, you have to hold it, half submerged, until the batter begins to cook. This ensures that the fish won't just sink and stick to the bottom of the basket. We used the same technique on other pieces of cod that were simply dredged in a mixture of flour, semolina, and seasonings. Both methods produced moist flakey fish encased in perfectly browned crusts. With another hit of salt and a squeeze of lemon, I could almost begin to hear the sound of crashing waves and squawking seagulls.
I could go on about the cornucopia of produce that made it's way into the hot oil today. There were giant circles of paper-thin celery root, squared off chips of rutabaga, credit card sized planks of sweet potato, and tempura battered asparagus spears. We also made curry flavored fritters with smoked cod, onion, and parsley. I could imagine folding in other ingredients to the simple baking soda/flour/milk batter like smoked ham and peas or dried figs and haloumi cheese. In a jiffy, we whipped up apple fritters that had big, tender chunks of fruit and a doughnut-like crust. In lieu of salt, they received a post-swim dusting of powdered sugar.
Deep frying is easy when you have hot vats on call at any given moment. Frying at home is a different story. French fries require so much oil and cooking them usually results in a big splattered mess. And there's no easy solution for home cooks to deal with all that spent fat. I wish it were easier to fry at home. But then again, maybe it's better that way.