While not as popular as stir-frying, deep-frying is a common Chinese cooking technique. Here are answers to the most commonly asked questions about how to deep-fry. Read them over, and when you're ready to start deep-frying, try these deep-fry recipes.
1. Do I need to use a wok for deep-frying?
No. Some people feel safer sticking with a deep-fat fryer. If you do use a wok make sure it is securely in place - flat-bottomed woks work best for electric ranges; round bottomed for gas stoves. (Make sure the round-bottomed wok is securely in place in the wok stand).
2. How do I put the food into the wok?
Carefully sliding in the food will prevent splattering. Also, add ingredients in small amounts and don't overcrowd the wok. Overcrowding will lower the temperature and may lead to splattering or spillage.
3. What is a good temperature for deep-frying?
It depends on the recipe, but most suggest you heat the oil to somewhere between 350 degrees and 375 degrees Fahrenheit. (Partly this depends on the size of the food being cooked, as larger items can be deep-fried at a lower temperature).
Remember, though, the temperature will drop slightly when you put in the food.
4. What type of oil should I use for deep-frying? Peanut oil is good, as it has a high smoking point and thus does not burn easily even at high temperatures. Vegetable oils such as canola and corn oil are also good choices. Don't use sesame oil - it doesn't have a high enough smoking point. Neither does olive oil - besides, it's too expensive given the high quantities needed for deep-frying. Chinese recipes used to call for lard, but most don't anymore because of the fat content.
5. How much oil should I add?
Most recipes will call for a specific amount of oil, although some just list "oil for deep-frying," under the ingredients, while others give a range such as 2 to 4 cups. How much oil to add depends on the item being deep-fried. Make sure the food is completely submerged, but allow space at the top of the wok for the oil level to rise when the food is dropped in.
6. How can I tell when the oil is hot enough?
You can always go the traditional route and use a wooden chopstick to check the oil - it's hot enough when bubbles form all around the object.
However, it takes a bit of practice to know just when the oil reaches the right temperature. Add to that the fact that you need to adjust for a drop in temperature when placing the food in the wok, and the novice is better off relying on a deep-fry thermometer. If you don't have a deep-fry thermometer, a candy thermometer will work also.
7. How can I reduce splattering?
The food you are going to deep-fry should be at room temperature. This reduces the drop in the temperature of the oil when you put it in, lessening the chance of splattering. You might want to dry the food with a paper towel before adding it. If the food to be deep-fried is in a sauce, use a slotted spoon to let it drain before adding it to the wok. Similarly, if the food is batter-coated, make sure all the excess batter has dripped off before placing it in the hot oil.
8. What if the recipe calls for the food to be deep-fried twice?
This is optional, but it does give the food a crisp coating. The difference in texture between the crisp coating and the juicy interior makes a nice contrast.
Make sure to recheck the oil temperature before you add the food back into the wok.
9. Can I reuse cooking oil?
Yes, you can reuse cooked oil several times. You'll know it has gone bad when it starts smoking at normal temperatures or the color darkens.
10. How can I reduce the amount of fat?
First, by keeping the temperature up. Food cooked at too low a temperature will be greasy. Secondly, by not overcrowding the wok, which lowers the temperature, again leading to greasy food. Finally, using a wok actually helps - the unique shape of the wok means that you use less oil to cook with than would be the case with a deep-fat fryer.
A final word about accessories. A large Chinese wire mesh spoon (also called a "skimmer") is invaluable for moving the food to and from the wok, and maneuvering it while deep-frying.