Fried foods are fattening, but diabolically delicious

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2008

Once long ago, three bored chefs were sitting around their kitchen on a lazy, winter afternoon.

These chefs were all talented and creative cooks. Unfortunately, they also were all quite diabolical. They were trying to devise an irresistible new cooking technique with which to lay waste to people's waists.

"How about sautéing?" asked one chef with a swarthy mustache.

"What about it?" challenged the rotund chef with a pointed goatee.

"Fried foods are terribly fattening. If there were just a way to make them more fattening ... "

"What if ... " said the chef with a bushy unibrow.

"Yes?" The other two leaned forward.

"What if we could entirely submerge the food in boiling oil?"

"But that would take gallons of oil!"

"True ... "

"It would be a simmering, deadly cauldron of golden grease."

"Precisely!"

And so, conceived in malice, the deep fryer was born. At least that's how I like to think it happened.

With the deep fryer came the ability to take perfectly good, simple foods such as potatoes, chicken and bread dough and transform them into french fries, fried chicken and doughnuts. The world was changed forever.

The deep fryer cooks food by dehydrating. It boils moisture out of the food, crisping the surface in the process. The hot oil is normally maintained at a temperature just below its smoking point, which causes the oil to degrade in quality rather quickly. Food deep-fried early in the day might have a different appearance than the same food cooked later that evening. Old oil makes food darker, greasier and more bitter.

The secret is oven-finishing. Deep-frying is more an art than a science. It's simple: Fry items until they are golden brown, then transfer them to a tray and pop them in an oven to finish. You can even line your tray with paper toweling to help absorb oil from the food while it's oven-finishing. Just make sure your oven isn't hotter than 400 degrees (remember Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," the temperature at which paper burns). Fried foods can bake in the oven for another five or 10 minutes without becoming appreciably darker in color.

If we could exhibit moderation, deep-fried items might still play a role in a balanced diet. Not all deep-fried items qualify as junk food. Beer-battered halibut, an Alaska specialty, is a world-class dish. Unfortunately, the deep fryer has become synonymous with poor nutrition and obesity. Our imaginary, devious chefs would be well-pleased.

And there is no end in sight to this tragic trend. Convenience food marketers talk about fresh options, while continuing to produce heinous, thousand-calorie snacks. An example is the St. Louis bacon cheeseburger that uses a Krispy Kreme doughnut as a bun.

Maybe the evil chefs have won. Maybe in the dark future, everything, everywhere will be deep fried.

Deep-fried Thanksgiving turkey?

Obviously better. It tastes like a big fried chicken.

Deep-fried ice cream?

A classic Mexican treat.

And deep-fried Twinkies and Snickers bars are divine.

And finally, deep-fried pizza. Yes, it's true. A light amber ale beer batter works best. Use cold slices of pizza. Dip them in the batter, toss them in hot oil, and fry until golden brown. Just make sure you have 911 on the speed dial!

• Derrick Snyder is a chef instructor at Chez Alaska and can be reached at bigbearcook@gmail.com.



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