Healthy Frying Basics

We were surprised—and delighted—to perfect some frying techniques that fill the bill for healthy eating.

Fried Catfish with Hush Puppies and Tartar Sauce Recipes

Fried Catfish with Hush Puppies and Tartar Sauce is one of our staff favorites of 2010.

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

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  • Nutrition Notes

    • Choose a healthy oil that’s low in saturated fat. We use peanut oil. Soybean and canola oils are also good.
    • Watch oil temperature like a hawk: If it’s not hot enough, the food will soak up extra oil.

Upon tasting a perfectly fried food, people often swoon and exclaim, “It’s not greasy at all!” As if that were a miracle. And we’ve said it, too. Yet even with the ungreasy evidence in our hands, we instinctively regard a perfect beer-battered shrimp or French fry as a fat bomb. But here’s the happy truth: If you fry in the right oil and follow our guidelines carefully, fried foods can have a place in a healthy diet. Science shows how proper frying minimizes oil absorption while creating that sublime, toasty crust. In our Test Kitchen, six breaded, fried catfish fillets and a basket of hush puppies absorbed only ¼ cup oil! It’s all in the technique. See our step-by-step guide to healthy frying and recipes.

Although it’s true that properly fried foods aren’t as bad as we once thought, frying should be an occasional treat. A few critical factors to keeping fat and calories in check bear repeating; keep these in mind every time you fry.

Keep Oil Clean. If debris builds up in the pan, it will burn after a few minutes. This is especially a problem when frying breaded and battered ingredients. Burned particles in the oil will cause it to discolor and infuse it with an off flavor that will taint the food. So use a slotted spoon to remove crumbs as you go.

Make better batter or breading. Coating foods yields a tasty crust, but breadings and batters done wrong can inflate calories and promote oil absorption. All-purpose flour adheres well because it contains gluten, but too much flour causes the food to absorb more oil. Adding gluten-free ingredients like cornmeal or rice flour reduces absorption. And batters that use leaveners or carbonated beverages produce gas bubbles that discourage oil absorption as well.

Use moderation. Pair fried entrées with a healthy side or salad.

Choose a heart-healthy oil with a high smoke point. See Nutrition Notes box at left.

Heat oil to the proper temperature, and use a candy/fry thermometer to monitor it.

Maintain the proper oil temperature during cooking; otherwise, the food begins absorbing excess oil, not only adding fat and calories but also rendering it soggy. Greasy fried food is badly fried food.

When battering foods before frying, be sure to use carbonated liquids, a small amount of leavening (baking soda), or both in the batter. These release gas bubbles as the food cooks, further reducing oil absorption.

Drain cooked foods on paper towels for a minute or two after cooking, so any excess oil doesn’t cling and soak into the food.

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