In order to excel at things like doughnuts, fritters and cannoli, it’s important to understand the process of frying. As I’ve mentioned previously, good frying is really more like steaming, but why would that be so? It all comes down to this simple maxim: oil and water don’t mix.
In the case of frying, the oil is, well, the oil. And the water? That’s the food. Actually it’s the batter that’s around the food, or in the case of cake doughnuts, the batter that is the food. Batters, you see, contain a lot of water, and that’s critical to frying. Immerse a battered, oh, let’s say sausage in a fryer and you’ll see quite a lot of activity. Try the same thing with an unbattered sausage and well, it’s a lot less fun.
The reason: when liquid water is suddenly immersed in 375-degree fat it turns instantly to steam. That steam wants to escape the confines of the food, and it does so in the form of bubbles. As the steam exits the food it does something critically important: it keeps the fat — which wants to get into the food — out. It’s like a game of football. The offensive line is the fat, the defensive line is the steam. If your oil is nice and fresh, your defense is like, say, the ’76 Steelers. When the play starts there’s a lot of grunting and mashing, but in the end the offense doesn’t really get anywhere. The result is perfectly cooked food that absorbs a bare minimum of fat.
But if your oil is old and broken down, it’s a whole different ball game, so to speak. The offense rushes over the defense like the Green Bay Packers over the Detroit Lions, and well…you’re probably better off ordering pizza. More information on oil breakdown (and fewer compounded metaphors) in the next post.