Friday, November 16, 2012

Into the fryer

November 11, 2012
  • French Fries
  • Sloppy Toms
  • Appalachian Cider Baked Beans
  • Vella Merlot
  • Gordon Biersch Czech Style Pilsner

From time to time I see a recipe for deep fried food that I would like to try. But deep frying is such a hassle! What kind of oil do you use? What do you do with it when you're done cooking? Can you keep it and if so how and where? Do you throw it out, and if so how do you do that? How do you pour it without making a mess? How do you control the temperature? How do you remove the cooked food from the hot oil? So many questions.

For many years we have had a deep fryer but we haven't used it for quite a while. The oil it contains is who knows how old and probably not very good. The fryer had a convenient basket to drain and remove the food, a thermostat, and a lid so you could store oil in it between uses. However, it had significant disadvantages: it takes up a lot of room in the cupboard, is difficult to keep clean, has a thermostat that I don't really trust, and exposes the used oil to air which would shorten its life. I've reviewed possible replacement electric fryers but I've never found a satisfactory solution.

The Test Kitchen uses a Dutch Oven equipped with a candy thermometer for deep frying They never show what to do with the left over oil which I think is the biggest challenge to deep fat frying, though they have said that unless you're cooking fish you can reuse it. Earlier this year I found a solution to my deep frying challenge, though, in a somewhat unlikely place. I made sourdough starter which is kept in a glass jar in the refrigerator. It occurred to me that this re-sealable glass jar would be a good place to store used oil. I have a dutch oven and I can use my instant-read thermometer to control the temperature, suspending it in the oil using a rope made of foil. If I had a 2-quart glass jar (2 liters, to be more accurate), a funnel to help transfer the oil, and a "spider" to transfer the food, I should be all set. A few weeks ago I ordered these three items form Amazon and picked up a gallon of peanut oil. I was good to go!

This week, after throwing the old electric fryer into the trash, I made us some french fries for dinner.  I had several Test Kitchen recipes to choose from and I chose "Classic French Fries" as being the simplest, most basic recipe. A russet potato was peeled and cut into long  ¼-inch fries using the mandoline (A scary tool, Diane and I both have cut ourselves on it.) to ensure uniform thickness. The potatoes were placed in cold water with ice and then went into the freezer to chill for 20 minutes or so. (They would have gone into the refrigerator but once again I neglected to read the recipe ahead of time and so needed to chill them faster than otherwise.)  The potatoes were fried twice, first at 325° to cook them through then at 350° to crisp the exterior. I set the dial on our electric stove to 4 or 5 (out of 10) until the proper temperature was reached. I then put in the potatoes and increased the burner setting to 8 or so. I liked the fries, thinking they were better than frozen and having more potato flavor. Diane likened them to the fries you get at In 'N Out but she prefers larger fries, like "steak fries".

She also prefers the convenience of frozen fries to the still significant effort involved in deep frying at home.
After the oil cooled, we filtered it though a fine mesh strainer and a coffee filter and stored it in a sealed glass jar in the refrigerator. I found that pouring it from the dutch oven without spilling was not possible and so used a ladle to transfer the oil to the filter. Deep frying at home is still a hassle.

To go along with the fires I made a turkey version of sloppy joes appropriately called Sloppy Toms using a recipe from Food Wishes. Since in my mind the fries were the main course, I wanted something that would be pretty easy to prepare, would keep well for leftovers, and which could be frozen as we will be going on vacation in the not too distant future. The Sloppy Toms were pretty easy to make, requiring just one pan. The sandwiches were nice and tender, thanks to a long simmer, and were nicely seasoned. I used about ½ teaspoon of cayenne but should have used only half this amount, they were a little to spicy for us. For the final course we used up some leftover baked beans which I'll get around to writing about one of these days.

Sloppy Toms from
French Fries from The America's Test Kitchen Cookbook, p. 287, "Classic French Fries"
Appalachian Cider Baked Beans from Leite's Culinaria (these were leftovers, I haven't written the blog post about them, yet.)

The pork tenderloin was a good leftover. I cut fairly thick slices, about ½ inches, and heated them in a skillet with a little oil over medium heat. This heated the meat through but didn't dry it out. These were served with the maple glaze that had been reheated in the microwave oven.


  1. Homemade donuts for dessert next week?

  2. Not next week but perhaps some time soon.