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Warm weather, yes my friends, it has finally arrived. If you are thinking there is always a theme to how my articles begin, you are right.
Nothing says cooking like a weather update. So here we are, staring at warm weather, fishing and bringing out the grills. It is one of my favorite times of year. We have shaken off the winter slumber and are now looking forward to the smells of spring.
One thing we all love to do during the spring is get outside, whether for entertainment or cooking. That doesn’t mean we can’t use a lot of the techniques we use in the house. One thing I love to do, being from Kentucky, is to fry foods. I know that we all have this stigma against frying things, but the fact is it makes food flavorful and it’s quick and easy. Doing it outdoors makes it even better as it doesn’t fill your house with the smell of fried food.
Anytime you are frying anything it’s good to know oils. Some oils are better for frying than others. Some oils will impart too much of their own flavor on foods, while others will reach their smoke point too fast. Smoke point is a very important part of frying foods.
Some oils reach their smoke point fairly quickly and when the smoke point is reached, the oil imparts a burnt flavor into the food.
It’s fairly common for this to happen when you are frying a lot of food. By the end of it, the oil has been hot for so long the smoke point eventually gets reached and the food is not only a different color than the first batches it also has a different flavor. Knowing which oils to use can be very helpful to making sure all your time and effort pay off.
Here’s a short list of oils and their smoke points:
• Vegetable shortening (hydrogenated), 325 degrees
• Butter, 350 degrees
• Lard, 375 degrees
• Olive oil, 325-375 degrees
• Corn oil, 400- 450 degrees
• Grapeseed oil, 420-428 degrees
• Canola oil, 425-475 degrees
• Clarified butter, 450-475 degrees
• Sunflower oil, 450-475 degrees
• Soybean oil, 450-475 degrees
• Safflower oil, 475-500 degrees
You can see that while butter starts to smoke at roughly 350 degrees, safflower oil is still good up to 475 degrees. That is especially important when it comes to outdoor frying where it’s harder to control the temperature. On an outside fry pot it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between 350 degrees and 400 degrees or other temperatures and that can make the difference between tasty foods and ones that taste burnt.
I ran into this situation over the weekend. My brother and I were frying seafood. Me, being the fly by the seat of my pants guy that I am, decided not to use a thermometer. The first few batches were really good; the last couple weren’t fit to eat. Simply put, the oil got too hot during the cooking process and by the end, everything tasted severely burnt. I used corn oil and had I kept the temperature right, using a thermometer, I would have been fine. It’s a lesson I’ve learned a hundred times but still don’t know. Ruining seafood hopefully taught me something. Only time will tell.
As for me learning, one thing I have learned is that I don’t have to use flour or cornmeal to dip everything.
A few years back, my son and I were in New Orleans and he had a fantastic fried catfish. What made it different was that it was dredged in ground pecans.
My tip for the week is that, use ground pecans or almonds as a “breading” for your fried foods. It adds a ton of texture and flavor without overpowering the foods you are frying. I simply beat a few eggs, dip the meat or vegetables in the egg, and then dredge in the ground nuts and fry. It’s delicious.
Enjoy the outdoors, taking your cooking out with you and as always, eat well my friends.
Shawn Keeton is author of the cookbook, “Keeton in the Kitchen, A Celebration of Family, Friends and Food.” He resides in Carrollton, Ky.