Fry Me to the Moon

Sometimes inspiration comes in the form of a machine.

I once worked for a chef who told me, “Nothing says ‘I love you’ like fried.” He was sincere, I think, even if he was just trying to make me feel better about the mountain of spring onions I had to batter and fry that day. But I recently discovered that he wasn’t quite right—what really says “I love you” is someone buying you a home deep fryer as a present.

Now it’s certainly possible to deep fry without a dedicated machine, and in my pre-fryer life I used a couple cups of oil in a saucepan to deep-fry sage leaves to crumble over puréed squash soup and to make chips from potatoes sliced on a mandoline. Deep-frying like this takes a lot of attention, though, since the most important thing in frying is keeping the oil at the right temperature, hot enough (usually about 375°F) to cook the food fast but cool enough that the oil won’t burn. The frying machine makes this simple, while keeping the mess and smell of the hot oil contained. Having life this easy makes me adventurous.

I’ve made some of the best hand-cut french fries ever from a floury russet potato. I cook the fries in 275°F oil for 15 or 20 minutes until they’re completely soft, drain them while heating the oil to 375°F, and drop them back in for ten minutes to crisp and brown. (I reuse the oil a couple of times, and it always amazes me how little is absorbed by the fries themselves.) I’ve served them with burgers made with grass-fed meat, coleslaw, and the last of the summer’s pickles, and this is very good. What might be even better is fries with a big pile of mussels steamed in white wine with shallots. A little homemade mayonnaise and my apartment starts to feel like Brussels.

The joy of frying is the contrast in texture between the crisp outside and soft inside. For those foods that don’t come by this naturally, I make a crust by dredging them first in flour, then in beaten eggs thinned with a little water, then in breadcrumbs (panko, ideally—the Japanese have a perfectly developed frying culture). I’ve been doing this a lot with squid, serving those little rings and tentacles with chile jam, which is just addictive. And my dinner guests have been getting a lot of croquettes, which start life as little balls of leftover risotto or mashed potatoes. A couple of those with a glass of sparkling wine before dinner and everyone is in a better mood. Next stop: tempura. I have not yet begun to fry.

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