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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Frugal frying (Οικονομικό τηγάνισμα)

I never deep fry anything. Although Greeks do often own a 'friteza' (friteuse - domestic deep fryer with wire basket), I don't bother with such devices, because of the waste involved. Too much olive oil will remain in the fryer, which inevitably means that you will be re-using the same oil that has already been heated on previous occasions (it may contain odors from different foods), or you will throw it out.

We use only olive oil in all our cooking, and it is never thrown out. So when I need to fry something, I prefer to shallow fry only. I use a small frying pan, which means that you won't use a lot of olive oil, even when I need to fry a lot of something, like fish. Everything is fried in small batches, which means a lot more work in the kitchen, but there is little waste. This is especially good with fish, because the oil that remains after frying fish can't be re-used due to the heavy smell it's acquired. The remnants of my frying oil are used to coat bread or pasta for the dog's food. So in effect, nothing is thrown away.

The other good thing with frying in small batches is that the food fries more quickly and more evenly: when frying, it is always important to remember that adding too many items to be fried at once into the hot oil cools it down, so the food intended for frying ends up soaking a lot of olive oil and 'boiling' in it, rather than frying quickly. As the oil runs out in the pan, you simply top it up and wait until it has become smoking hot - it doesn't take long, as the oil that remained in the pan was already hot. 


I recently made a very frugal batter for frying fish (bakaliaro - salt cod), using a simple beer and flour recipe with a little salt. I was cooking partly from memory, as I remembered how my parents used to fry fish in their fish and chip shop in New Zealand. My father would make a large batch of batter (using water and baking powder instead of beer) in a tall deep plastic bucket. My mother would fry hundreds of fish fillets every day which my father had sliced into small pieces from a large filleted piece of fish with the bone still intact.

The consistency of the batter was thin and runny. When my mother dipped the floured pieces of fish into it, she'd then wipe them down the sides of the bowl to get rid of the excess, and then dip the fish into a deep vat full of hot beef dripping. This was all done very quickly, so that about 40 pieces of fish were frying at the same time in the vat. Everything ended up being fried twice: once to pre-cook, and another time when the customer ordered it. It sounds unhealthy, but it was very tasty, and most customers would come only once a week for fish and chips, so they weren't really eating it that often.


To  make a light runny batter for frying fish (or other vegetables), use 1 cup of beer to 1 cup of flour, and add desired seasonings. Mix the batter quickly until it contains no lumps (you can use a mixer for this if you want). If it feels thick, add water and keep stirring. The batter will be ready to use after a quarter of an hour. 


To cook chips in the oven, cut chips into an even size. Place the chips in a bowl with some salt and as much olive oil as you prefer. Mix everything very well using your hands. Then transfer the chips onto a baking tray, sitting them side by side, preferably without touching each other. Pour any excess oil remaining in the bowl over the chips. Cook in a moderate oven for 20 minutes, then use a sturdy pancake turner to turn the potatoes over and cook on the other side. It needs to be metallic because the potatoes may stick to the baking tray and will need to be scraped off, so a floppy silicone one will not work.


My fish and chip meal tasted quite different to what I remember of fish and chips, because of the olive oil I used for frying both the fish and the potatoes. I didn't have enough time to fry both the potatoes and the fish at the same time, so the potatoes were oven-fried, which uses much less oil and doesn't involve any fuss and bother, especially with cleaning up afterwards.

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