Fry Hard Transcript

The Kitchen

GUEST: Marsha Brown, Self-styled Food Police

    Besides water and air, fat is the only ingredient that moonlights as a cooking environment. In fact, when it comes to the efficient use of energy, enhanced flavor, enhanced texture, well, it's tough to beat frying. So, why don't we do it more often? Well, I blame people like ...

MB: Alton? [Her sweatshirt says, "Fat Is As Fat Does"]

... my sister, Marsha. The Manchurian Candidate of the kitchen.

MARSHA BROWN: Alton? I know what you're up to.

    Be afraid. Be very afraid.

MB: Oh, thank goodness I got here in time.
AB: For what?
MB: Well, to stop you.
AB: From what?
MB: You know.
AB: You can't even say it, can you?
MB: Oh, ah, I choose not to say it.
AB: Frying.
MB: Oh, oh. There's not cause for profanity.
AB: Fat.
MB: Oh, ah. I can't hear you. Ha, ha. I can't hear you, I can't hear you, I can't hear you ...

    Join us as we rediscover frying. We'll find the right vessel to FRY in, choose the right FAT to FRY with, produce the perfect plate of fish-and-chips and hopefully silence forever those FANATICS who would defame FAT and FRYING as four-letter words when, indeed, they are truly good eats.

The Kitchen

    Frying is the perfect dry-heat cooking method because hot fat can conduct heat to the entire surface area of the food at one time. Well, it's like having a pan that can just wrap itself around food. And, if it's done properly, very little of the fat is absorbed into the food. Now, the trick is to understand which fat to use. And for that we need a little lesson in fat composition. You see, all fat molecules are triglycerides, are composed of one unit of glycerol, an alcohol derivative, and three fatty acids. It's kind of like this train. [Turns train on.]

Triglyceride =

1 glycerol +

3 fatty acids

MB: Oh, ah. Oh, no. Not another one of your lame teaching aids.
AB: Oh, don't go off the rails, Marsha.

    Now, let's pretend for a second that this engine and this caboose form one glycerol and each one of these three cars is a fatty acid, hence 'trigylceride'. Okay, now each one of these fatty acids has a certain amount of seats on it and normally these are taken up by hydrogen, okay? If every seat has a shiny, happy hydrogen in it, then this fatty acid is considered saturated.

    Now fats that are high in saturates like lard, palm oil, butter and beef tallow have a very, very long shelf life because they are stable because all of their molecular bonds are all taken up. This is why food manufactures really like to use them because they use long shelf life to everything from baked goods to popcorn. And they're also easy to work with because most of them are solid at room temperature.


palm oil


beef tallow

MB: Yeah but what about, what about shortening?
AB: I'll get there.
MB: Okay.

    Okay, next car. If there is one empty seat on the fatty acid, then it is a mono-unsaturated fatty acid. Now, fats that are high in mono-unsaturates like olive-oil and most nut oils are considered very, very healthy. But this seat, this is problematic. You see, because any molecular vagabond that wanders by can take that seat. And if it's something stinky like, say, sulfur or iron oxide then this entire fat is kaput, rancid. Which is not a very, very good thing.

olive oil

walnut oil

almond oil

hazelnut oil

    On top of that, most of these oils are prized for their distinctive flavors so they're not very refined. That gives them low smoke points. So, again, not great for frying.

Smoke point - The temperature at which a fat begins to break down and become unstable.

MB: And, hey, but, but what about shortening?

    Oh, well, truth be told, shortenings are usually made from mono-unsaturated fats. But to make them last longer, the manufacturer adds hydrogen to the empty seat. So, what was once mono-unsaturated is now saturated. It's shelf stable. It's solid at room temperature. But, most of the health benefits are gone.

    Next, if there are two or more empty seats on the fatty acid, it is poly-unsaturated. Now, safflower, canola, sunflower and all the other oils that are big on poly-unsaturates have very, very mild flavors and very high smoke points, so they are perfect for frying. But alas, lots of empty seats. Which means that these kinds of fats can go bad about 100 times faster than saturated fats. Now, you can store them properly and that will help things, but the biggest thing you can do to add life to your poly-unsaturates is to not fry in cast iron. Because more times than not, the little monsters are form iron oxide.


a high smoke point means safer frying

MB: Well, you make it sound like that all these little acids are one, big, happy fat train.
AB: That's the cool thing. They are. See, any given fat can contain all three of these. What separates what we call a saturated fat from an unsaturated fat depends on the combination. They could all be saturated. They could all be poly-unsaturated.


MB: Uh, huh. Okay. Well, I'm going to the ladies room.
AB: Bye.

    [waits till she exits] Time to make a break.

Bed, Bath & Beyond: Dunwoody, GA - 10:17 am


    [peering around the corner using a shiny pot lid] Yeah, there she is. "W." Ordinarily, I wouldn't mind a little verbal jousting, but she'll keep us here for hours and we've got bigger fish to fry. Literally. Oh, come on. See, when it comes to immersion frying, we've basically got two different methods we could go with. Neither one of them are perfect.
    Okay, there she goes, there she goes. Okay, move, move, move.
    Okay. Fry machines. Perfect for convenience and safety, okay? Convenient? Well, because when you've got the oil in there you do your frying, you get done, you close the lid and you put it away. You'll be surprised how many different frys you can get out of one change of oil. But more on that later. Safety? Well, again it frys with the lid closed. The steam vents out the top so no splatters. And, of course, the outside is cool-touch which is great if you've got small fry in the house. Small fries. Son, it's a joke. Come on.
    All right, she'll be futzin around with those toaster ovens for a week. Okay. Next to a $3,000 restaurant Fryalator, the best frying tool you can have is a heavy Dutch oven. What makes it so great? It's heavy. See, the denser the metal the more it will hold its heat and that means it will help to regulate the temperature of the fat which is what we want, right? It's wide so it's stable. The best thing about it is that it lets you control the oil temperature. The worst thing about it? Is it let's you control the oil temperature. You've got to be there. You've got to pay attention. You've got to use a fry thermometer and make sure the oil stays at a safe temperature. Okay.
    Now there's one more tool you have got to have but it's one that you ought to have already. [notices W approaching from behind] INCOMING!

"ABC" class fire extinguishers put out fires involving grease or oil,
electricity and standard combustibles such as fabric, paper and wood.

The French (fry) Connection
The Kitchen

GUEST: Shirley O. Corriher, Food Science Guru

    So, I'm going to start by filling my trusty Dutch oven to about an inch and a half of the top with safflower oil. Now, since this is a five quart Dutch oven that means it's going to be about a gallon of oil.

MB: Well, why stop there? There's already enough fat in there to choke a blue whale's aorta. Just fill it up to the top.
AB: Well, if I fill it all the way to the top, then when I'm cooking, I could slosh some hot oil out. And if that were to hit the coil or the flame it could flare up a little bit. Although, a wide pot like this should prevent that from happening.
 Um, hm. See. Frying, it's a hazard all around.
AB: Sure, if you put this on high heat and you go off to a movie or something, you could have a problem. But, as long as you keep an eye on your thermometer and keep the oil changed regularly—more on oil changes later—you're not going to have any problems. I thought you were going to stay out of sight.
MB: Fine. If you need me, I'll just be over there.
AB: Thank you.

    So, thermometer in place, oil in place. I'm going to turn this up to high heat but keep an eye on it because this amount of oil will get up to 300 much quicker than an equal amount of water would even reach the boiling point. Now, other fry hardware.

"Because it's less dense, fat heats faster than water."

    You're going to need a draining rig of some type. See, fried food has got to be allowed to drain thoroughly or else it's just going to get greasy. Now, I like to use a half-sheet pan cause it's got an edge and that kind of lets me recollect the oil later. And, just a cake cooling sheet. Whatever you do, do not use paper towels.  They just hold the grease right next to the food and it gets greasy.

broiler pan

cake rack

    You're also going to need a retrieval device of some sort. I like this wire, spider strainer that I got at an Asian market. But, if you've got a really good pair of spring loaded tongs, they'll do in a pinch. Heh-heh. If you've got a salad strainer, you're going to need that a little later, too. But, it's not completely necessary. If you don't have one, just a few good kitchen towels will do.



wire strainer

    Now, uniform cooking depends on uniform sizes. So when it comes to cutting fries, I skip the knife and use a V-Slicer complete with the wide cutting blade. Now, my legal department tells me that I must warn you that ... well, you already know all of this, right? So, just make sure you've got a really good grip on the potato before you start cutting. Now, don't bother taking the peel off of this. Because even if you don't like the flavor of the peel, it's a whole lot easier to just kind of remove the offending pieces later on. As soon as you're done cutting ... [pops the remaining potato in the sink.] Hum.

1 Russet spud per person

    You want to get your fries in cold water as soon as possible. What that's going to do is flush off any of the extra starch from the sides, from the cuts of the fry. It's going to do two things. One, it will keep the fries from turning dark. But more importantly, that starch would block steam getting out of the fry. And if that happens during cooking, then the fry's going to be gummy instead of light and fluffy. Now, you can cut ten minutes or ten hours before frying as long as the fries stay cold and submerged. So, we will let these take a soak while we turn our attention to the batter.

cold H20

MB: What batter?
AB: What does it matter? You don't eat fish-and-chips.
MB: No. Of course not. No.



    Our favorite batter for frying is about as simple as it gets. It all starts with about two cups of All-Purpose flour. Now, batters do three things for fried foods. On one hand, they protect the food from the intense heat of the oil. Then, of course, it adds the flavor, and of course, the texture.

2 Cups AP flour

    Now, on top of the flour we're going to need some leavening, something to produce bubbles and lightness. So, a tablespoon of baking powder, and as a seasoning base, a teaspoon of kosher salt. Now that's all that we've technically got to have for the dry ingredients, but I want to add just a little bit of flavor. So, I'm going to go with about a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper and a few shakes of Old Bay. It's a traditional seafood spice form my childhood that I like a lot.

1 Tbls baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
tsp cayenne pepper
a shake or 2 Old Bay

    Now, bring all of this together and contemplate moisture. We need a liquid. We could use anything from club soda to water to milk, it doesn't really matter. But what we like is beer. Not only does beer add the requisite water, which it mostly is, but also brings a lot of flavor and color to the party. And then of course there are the bubbles. Now, beer that's cold is better than beer that's warm. We just want to bring this together. Make this about 15 minutes ahead of time and there'll actually be time for the flour particles to hydrate with moisture which will make for a lighter batter. Don't do this more, though, than an hour ahead of time or it will go flat on you.

1 bottle beer

MB: I always add eggs.
AB: I thought you didn't fry anymore.
MB: Well, it doesn't mean I can't have an opinion.

    Well, she's right and, of course, she's wrong. Whipped egg whites added to a batter will make it lighter and crisper, almost like a tempura—which I don't really like for fish-and-chips. I want something a little more substantial. But beware egg yolks. Egg yolks are mostly fat. And if there's fat in the batter, it's going to attract fat from the pot leaving you with greasy food.

MB: What are you talking about?
AB: Well, Marsha, it all has to do with steam and the way that ... You know what? I think that you would be much better educated if you spent a little time with the 'box'.
MB: Oh, no. Anything but that stupid puppet show and ...
AB: But Marsha. It is you who have summoned the box with your questions. I merely obey.
MB: Uh, oh. You built that thing when you were eight. Remember? You put on that little play, "The Little Yeast That Could." You invited all the neighborhood children and not one of them would come.
AB: Look, you enjoy the show. I've seen this one. I'll just stay with the oil. LIGHTS!
SHIRLEY CORRIHER: Water is a major part of frying.
MB: Oh, no. She's even worse than you.
SC: Take this French Fry, for instance. When fries go into hot fat there's a shhhshssss. And that's the water, the moisture, in the fry turning to steam in the high temperature and pushing out. Now, as long as the steam is pushing out there is no way the fat to go in. But the split-second you run out of moisture in the food or in the batter guess what. The fat literally gets sucked in.

Never re-use any frying oil that has been heated beyond 400.

The Kitchen

    [???] ... 315, so I'm going to turn this down to low and let it coast to 320 which is a good blanching temperature.

315 coast to 320

     Now, time to retrieve the fries. It's really, really important that these fries be as dry as possible, as far as their surface at least, before they go into the hot fat or they'll pretty much just jump out of the pan. Now, I like to drain them right into the basket for my salad spinner. But if you don't have a salad spinner, just strow them out on top of your biggest, thirstiest kitchen towel.

MB: Eww, what's all that white stuff?
AB: That is the starch that came off of those fries. Now if we'd just dump that into a colander all of that white goo would now be back on the fries and we'd back where we started. Excuse me.

    Time to give these a spin.

Fryer bound foods should be free of excess surface moisture.

    Now, just like a hot pan, hot fat is not an effective cooking vessel if it's over crowded. So, we're going to work in really small batches, about a potato's worth at a time. There, right into the fat. And you kind of want to move it around just a little bit so that they don't stick together. Now the temperature may drop a few degrees while you're cooking, but it's no big deal. Just keep your eyes on the thermometer and adjust it. You want to keep it right at 320. But be careful that you don't over compensate.
    In two to three minutes your fries will turn light gold and a little floppy. Like that. Thus ends the first fry.

MB: The first fry? What are you talking about?
AB: Well, sis, not that it would matter to you since you don't eat French Fries. But if you want to do them right you always cook them twice. Once at a relatively low temperature for the inside and then later at a high temperature to crisp the outside.

    So, as soon as you've cycled through the whole first batch you want to let these limp lovelies just sit here and drain and cool off to room temperature. Meanwhile, turn the heat up on the oil so that you can get it up to about 375. That'll be the final frying temperature. And since we're going to need a warm place to park these while we do the fish, turn your oven to 200.

increase fat temp to 375
heat oven to 200

The "French" in "French Fry" refers not to the country of origin,
but to the cut of the potatoes which are "frenched."

    So, after two to three minutes and 375 oil what was once limp and pallid is now crisp and golden brown (I've always wanted to say that.) That is exactly what we're looking for. Good color, nice and crisp. Hot. So, we want to get these on to the draining pan as soon as possible. Now while we're at it might as well add a little bit of seasoning. Little kosher salt. It's the perfect time. Now, into the 200 oven. As long as we keep these things hot they're going to stay crisp at least for 20 or 30 minutes. And that's plenty of time to finish the fish.

    Now Cod might be the traditional king of fish-and-chips. But the truth is any firm-fleshed, white fish will do just fine ... um, haddock, pollock or tilapia, all great choices.


  Now, oilier fish have a tendency to get really fishy when they're deep fried. So stay away from things like mackerel and salmon.  Besides, salmon and fish-and-chips--it's a little too weird for me. What I like to do is buy is tilapia and I usually buy it frozen. And when it's not quite thawed, I cut it into one ounce strips. Count on about four or six of these per person.


1864: The first Fish & Chip shop opens in London.
Within a decade, there will be over a thousand.

    Now, wet stuff does not like sticking to other wet ... excuse me [pulls out the batter] ... stuff. It's one of those universal axioms that keeps the galaxy from ripping itself to shred and dissolving into the void.

MB: That's funny. I could have sworn that was gravity.
AB: That's one of them, too.

    The point is is that fish is meat and meat is moist. It can't help it. It's its nature. And batter really just doesn't like meat very much. But, if we put a dry surface on the meat that's another matter. So, flour or corn starch, which is my preference. We're just lightly going to lightly dredge four pieces of fish in the corn starch. Just toss it around. Now one of the big keys is that you don't want too much. Because if there is too much of a coating when this goes into the batter, things will be ugly because the batter will just fall right off. So, before it goes in you want to shake off every extra bit that you can. Then just lay it right into the batter. Don't worry about getting your hand dirty. You're actually going to be glad you did in a couple of minutes.

    Now the worst mistake you can make is just kind of dropping this in there. You want to slowly lower it so that the crust has a time to seal and not stick to the bottom of the pan or to the next piece of fish. Do not lay one piece of fish right on top of the other or you will be sorely be disappointed in the fish clot that results. Now don't worry about oil splattering up on your hand because you've got a glove on [glove made from batter.]


don't cross the strips

    Now once they've been in for a moment and have had time to flip to the top you're just going to want to wait and then roll them all over. Just use your spider or your tongs and just give them a little flip. Do that, maybe, twice in the next two minutes. In three minutes this is all going to be over with. Then, after they drain and you eat, in about an hour or so the oil is going to be cool enough to strain and recycle for the next fry session.

MB: Wait a minute. You mean to tell me you're going to keep all that disgusting, used oil?
AB: THIS, is what I'm saying.
MB: Eww.

The Driveway

    Just like your car oil, your fryer oil will occasionally need to be changed. That's because each time you use it the smoke point actually gets lower. And it picks up funny molecular business from the foods and it just kind of starts breaking down. Now, mileage, of course, is going to vary depending on the fat you use and the items you fry. If you ever notices that the frying times are getting excessively long, if the color darkens significantly, if the oil starts to smell funny or if you ever see smoke it's time for a change.

change oil when:
long fry time
oil darkens
smells funny

The Kitchen

    After two and a half minutes our fish is golden, brown and delicious. Or as they say in the restaurant trade, "G, B and D." Now if you're not sure if it's done, crack open one and just take a look at the fish. If it's not finished, though, don't drop everything back in the oil. The crust will just burn that way. Put it on a draining pan and get it into a 350 oven for five to ten minutes until the fish finishes cooking.

finish in 350 oven

    Now, I'm just going to serve this right on top of the fries, just like they do in jolly ole England. It's a little bit hot but if you move fast it won't matter. There. Now, unfortunately in England they recently decided that using newspaper as fish-and-chip wrapping is a bad idea. So they outlawed it. Sad, sad day. But I figure when it comes to fish-and-chips those guys know best. So I followed suit by switching over to parchment paper.
    Now we've got a little malt vinegar, little kosher salt.

AB: Gee, sis. You want to share? This is really good.
MB: Oh, no thanks. You go right ahead.
AB: You know when we re-measure all the fat that we used it turns out that there's only about a teaspoon and a half in that whole basket.
MB: Isn't that nice.
AB: Okay, well, you know I think I'm going to go check the mail. [leaves]
MB: Um-hm. All right. I guess I'll just stay here and clean up that dreadful mess you made. [begins to eat the food]

    [peeps back on Marsh] Maybe they're good eats after all.

MB: Mmm, mmm, mmm. Um-mm. *sigh*

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010