There's no disputing that deep-fried foods such as french fries, doughnuts, chicken and onion rings are tasty. But immersing food into extremely hot oil can be dangerous, so it is vital to ensure the deep fryer is set up properly and the food is prepped correctly to avoid splatters that can cause burns or even a fire. Before you begin using a deep fryer, read the manufacturer's instructions and follow all safety precautions. It's also wise to keep a fire extinguisher handy, just in case. When a deep fryer is used correctly, you're sure to end up with food that is flavorful and properly cooked.
Set It Up Correctly
Common sense is one of the most important factors when preparing a deep fryer for use. Ensure an electric deep fryer is positioned well away from any type of water source, such as a kitchen sink. Add the oil while the fryer is turned off, and only pour it to the "Fill" line on the inside of the deep fryer. It is important never to add oil above that line, as too much oil can overflow when food is added, causing burns or even a fire.
Set the temperature control according to the type of food you are preparing. For example, poultry should be deep-fried at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure the inside cooks to a safe temperature before the outside becomes too crisp, according to the USDA website. Because of its delicate texture, fish can be fried at 320 F, while french fries will crisp well at 375 F.
Even if you don't have an electric deep fryer, it's still possible to enjoy deep-fried food at home. Choose a heavy, deep skillet or wok and be sure to leave at least 2 inches or more between the oil level and the top of the skillet; fill the wok with only enough oil to submerge the food. If using a Dutch oven, do not fill it more than halfway with oil.
Whether working on the stovetop or with an electric deep fryer, it's wise to invest in a probe thermometer to ensure the oil is at the optimal temperature prior to frying. Alternatively, Nathan Myhrvold of the Modernist Cuisine website states that a frying, candy or thermocouple thermometer also works well, as long as its range measures up to 500 F.
Preparing the Eats
Deep-frying adheres to the old adage: "Oil and water don't mix." In fact, water is a deep fryer's worst enemy as it causes the oil to pop violently. That, in turn, can cause severe burns. When preparing food for immersion into extremely hot oil, be sure to have it prepped well ahead of time. For example, wash and cut vegetables accordingly but always ensure they are patted dry to remove any excess moisture. Always use the basket that came with the deep fryer and set it into the oil before adding the food. If you are using a batter, allow any excess to drip back into the bowl before placing the food into the deep fryer. Allow frozen foods to thaw and ensure all ice is removed.
The Oil Checklist
When deep-frying, choose an oil that is flavorless and one with a higher smoking point than the cooking temperature. For example, olive oil is generally not a top choice due to its abundance of flavor and lower smoking point. J. Kenji López-Alt, managing culinary director of the Serious Eats website, suggests using peanut, canola or sunflower oil. Grapeseed oil also works well for deep-frying, as does soybean and safflower oil, and even lard.
To ensure even cooking, do not attempt to fry everything at once. Work in small batches. Frying too much food at one time can cause it to be undercooked or cooked unevenly. Too much food in the fryer also reduces the temperature of the oil, preventing the food from crisping properly, leaving you with a plate of overly greasy grub. When adding food to the fryer, use tongs or a fork to get it as close to the oil as possible, to avoid splashing. Remove it with metal tongs or a slotted spoon, depending upon the type of cuisine and the vessel. Alternatively, if using an electric fryer, simply lift the basket above the grease and allow any excess oil to drip back into the fryer before serving.
Drain deep-fried food immediately on a plate lined with paper towels.