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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Frying the process of cooking food in hot fat or oil in an open pan. The fats and oils used vary from place to place. All share the quality that they can be heated to a much higher temperature than boiling water. The surface of food cooked by frying therefore coagulates quickly; further cooking induces flavour changes and the result should be an attractive, crisp-textured food.

Deep-frying, in which the food is submerged in oil, lard, or dripping heated to a high temperature in a deep-sided pan, is something of an art. Many foods, including chips (French fries, see chips and crisps), doughnuts, and fritters, are cooked this way. Careful temperature control is necessary for optimum results: too low, and the food will emerge pale and greasy; too high, and the exterior will scorch and toughen. If the temperature is correct, the outside cooks instantly, forming a seal, and the water inside the food converts to steam, from the surface inwards. This has the dual effect of cooking the food very quickly, and preventing fat from entering, as much of the steam escapes outwards through the surface. The fat or oil should not be allowed to burn (‘smoking hot’ fat is too hot—it smokes because it is burning). A frying thermometer is useful here. Otherwise a small cube of bread can be dropped into the oil and observed; it should take about a minute to brown, in which case the temperature is satisfactory.