While at dinner with a friend, my eyes popped. It was just a piece of shrimp tempura. Breaded, fried, served with a sauce. Why all the fanfare? It was the first time I can remember taking genuine pleasure in something deep-fried in far too long.
Deep frying has popularized with large assistance from fair culture. If you can eat it, someone somewhere has has attempted to submerge it in batter and hot oil. Why the allure, though? It’s not the most original cooking method. For me, it’s the trashy indulgent nature of it. I’m a rebel. I like being bad.
Not only that, but eating fried food creates automatic bragging rights. By eating something deep fried in the wake of Type 2 Diabetes, heartburn, and various other medical media surrounding the correlation between saturated fat and disease, you become the Andrew Zimmern of calorie exploration or the Anthony Bourdain of grease.
That’s it! Well, one of several “its.” A large factor in enjoying fried food comes with how much excess oily or fatty matter is left in the final texture and taste. Deep-fried food should be hot when served, seasoned – and I mean it has to taste like something besides batter, and battered an appropriate amount – otherwise all you’ll taste is flour. And don’t get me started on the condition of the oil something is fried in. If the oil has been sitting for too long (i.e. old oil), is at too high of a temperature/burning, or the food is left in the oil for too long, that rancid taste runs through what you’re consuming.
The phrase “Deep Frying” wasn’t documented until the 1930s, with the popularization of potato chips, but European and Arabic cultures in particular have been deep-frying for much longer than that – think Middle Ages and the BCE region. I lack this length of experience with deep fried mania, but I still feel comfortable sharing my opinion on what is and isn’t worth pursuing.
Deep-Fried Do, With The Indicated Provisos:
- Banana Chips – Only if coated in sugar, honey, chocolate, or spicy goodness. The singular time I will tell you something sweet is an addicting snack food
- Croquettes/Croquetas – When made well, these cure hangovers in ONE bite. Creamy bechamel sauce with various meat, veg, and spices, AND it’s fried? I’ve been known to inhale these three-at-a-time. For my twenty-second birthday party, the group of friends I went out to dinner with ordered FIFTY of these for the table to share.
- French Fries – Definitely possible to screw up, but always worth searching for the unicorn.
- Chicken – See above reference to French Fries.
- Pommes Dauphine and Crab Puffs – If you can find one, try it. Not everyone makes either of these, which means they’re usually made well.
- Pickles – Only if the creamy dipping sauce is actually flavorful and not cheap bottled ranch bullhockey.
- Beignets, Malasadas, Donuts, Cronuts, Bomboloni, Churros, Funnel Cake, Loukoumades, Zeppole And Various Savory and Sweet Fried Dough Concoctions – Exploring this aspect of deep-fried is worth a post by itself. Note: If it’s not coming directly out of the fryer, into a glaze or powdered sugar, and into your possession, it’s not worth getting. When you bite into it, steam should escape. Please don’t let the variety of donuts I know the names of discourage you. You’ll get there.
- Samosas – Don’t let me get near a bag of one of these. Just make sure there isn’t an audible tinge of grease hanging around. They should be flaky, light, and full of flavor with no taste of oil or sogginess.
- Arancini – For those of you who don’t speak Italian, these are fried risotto balls. See above reference to samosas for how they should taste.
- Chicharron aka Pork Rinds – Never by themselves. Always as a top garnish or appetizer vessel. Make sure they’re spicy.
- Corn Dog – Only if it’s dipped in real pancake batter and the sausage is made in-house. FYI: Chorizo corn dogs are never worth it.
- Falafel – Only in New York City or from a similar sort of cart
- Fish and Chips – Only in England, Scotland, or Ireland. Everywhere else is a terrible imitation. The breading will be too thick.
- Tempura – Make sure the batter isn’t as thick as your pinky and that your dipping sauce doesn’t taste of salt.
- Tortilla Chips – If I have to tell you what a good tortilla chip should consist of, you haven’t had a good one yet. Keep looking for Prince or Princess Charming and you will get your Disney-esque Happily Ever After.
- Tonkatsu anything in Japanese Culture – It must come over rice and have some sort of glaze over it. It should glisten with desirable goodness.
Deep-Fried Don’t Question, Just Don’t:
- Twinkie, Mars Bar, Snickers, Klondike Bar, Oreo, Coca Cola, Butter (Yes, Deep-Fried Butter Exists) – Anything stereotypical of a fair environment that sounds like the best iteration of a childhood sweet isn’t what you think it is. All you taste is batter.
- Pizza – The base is usually an inexpensive frozen pizza. That should be enough to turn you off.
- Finger Steak – Steak is meant to be moderately bloody. Deep frying it detracts from the carnal caveman desires eating a skillfully cooked ribeye invokes.
- Ravioli, Mozzarella Sticks, and Jalapeno Poppers – More often than not, the cheese ends up burned and gives the sensation of gnawing on dry-cleaning bags.
- Hushpuppies – I don’t care how light these are supposed to be, the sensation is that of swallowing lead.
- Chimichanga – See above latter reference to hushpuppies. These are worse.
- Calamari – Really? You like the taste of rubber?
- Onion Ring – See above reference to calamari.
- Chicken Fried Steak – Gravy is needed to add flavor for a reason. Just don’t.
- Egg Roll – A prime example of things that taste like nothing but the wrapper containing the bulk of the dish
- Oysters or Clams – They’re supposed to taste like the ocean orgasmed on your tongue, not stale bread crumbs.
- General Tso’s Chicken – There’s actually chicken underneath that nonsense? I would never have been able to tell.
- Noodles – Really? A wok isn’t enough to bring the flavor out?
- Scotch Egg – Why would anyone ruin the gorgeousness a well-cooked egg inspires by breading and frying it? Madness.
- Spam Fritter – I am the largest Spam advocate on the mainland, but these are too much nonsense. Enjoy Spam for what it is. Did I really just advise that?
- Agedashi Tofu – Another that only tastes like batter and oil.
Jury is still out on buffalo wings.
Let me know if you agree, disagree, or want to add something to either of these lists. I’ll be here.