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Deep fat frying is a cooking method that involves immersing food in heated fat. This is generally considered one of the faster ways of cooking. Many different kinds of food are often prepared this way, including French fries and many fried chicken recipes—some people even deep fry entire turkeys. Deep fat frying is a staple method of the fast food industry, and it has sometimes been attacked as an unhealthy way of preparing food.
Many chefs argue that deep frying isn’t actually as unhealthy as critics suggest. When the temperature is high enough, the food is cooked very quickly, and the moisture inside the food can actually keep the fat from being absorbed. When deep fat frying is handled properly, the foods are actually steamed in their own moisture, leaving a crunchy crust on the outside and a moist interior.
Many cultures worldwide have used deep fat frying over the centuries, and it’s not entirely clear where it originated. Researchers now believe that some very old recipes that call for boiling lard are actually describing the process of deep fat frying. The oldest known uses of the term "deep fried" are in the 1930s, but historians are certain the technique is much older than that.
Some people do their deep frying in a special pan, and others prefer a standalone deep fat fryer. Most chefs recommend the standalone fryers because they are more efficient and specialized. Some people would rather use a pan, because the standalone fryers can be a cosmetic eyesore, and they take up a fairly significant amount of counter space.
Deep fat frying can be very dangerous. When hot oil spills, it can cause terrible injuries. Most experts recommend that consumers take very special care of the placement of their deep fat fryer. Many commercial deep fat fryers have several special safety-oriented features, including locking lids and systems that will automatically turn the fryer off if the oil is overheating.
In the early days, most deep fat frying was done with lard and other animal fats. Now many chefs prefer to use vegetable oils because they're supposed to be healthier. The typical temperature used for deep fat frying is 300 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (148 to 204 degrees Celsius). The ideal temperature is determined based on what kind of oil or fat is being used and what kind of food is being cooked.
Down here in the South, we like to do a lot of deep fat frying. It doesn't begin and end with meats like chicken, pork or fish. We deep fry battered vegetables and even some forms of pie. I believe the tradition of deep fat frying started with slaves and poor white communities frying their food in communal vats of hot animal fat. Deep frying was a good way to cook fresh meats before they needed refrigeration.
Now that I'm on a diet, I don't order nearly as many deep fried foods as I used to. But there's no doubt in my mind that traditional foods like turkey and pork chops and fish definitely benefit flavor-wise when they are deep fat fried.
If you think about it, deep frying is essentially the same as boiling, only with oil instead of water. If I boil chicken breasts in water, the meat becomes fully cooked and I can pull it or chop it for recipes. The same thing happens with deep frying, only there's usually a coating of seasoned flour to prevent oil penetration. It's still the same process. Personally, I think the alleged health problems come more from the type of oil being used, not from the deep frying process itself.
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