Friday, May 17, 2013

Deep Frydeas

Things have been unusually hectic lately, both setting up my new business website focusing on the simplistic visualization of the complex science of food ( ), as well as researching sources for new and unusual foods to discover on my lightning-fast approaching trip to Vietnam.  Despite my recent 16-hour work days, I have, of course managed to make time for the things that are most important in life....well, at least cooking.

Last Tuesday I got together with my buddies Jethro ( and Scott ( for our sporadic, but generally speaking, monthly "Cooking Experimentaganzas". These sessions typically have a loose theme, involve danger, and result in dishes that range from extraordinarily delicious to OMG that sounds totally disgusting even on paper, why would you ever THINK of making that let alone eat it?  This week's theme - Deep Frying.

We each had some interesting ideas heading into this challenge but at some point in history, pretty much everything on Earth has been deep-fried making it a tough exercise to bring a lot of freshness to. The  majority of our attempts focused primarily on introducing modified food starches into otherwise "un-deepfryable" foods through the process of injection or infusion. Rather than coating a food in a batter, our goal was to change the structure of the food itself, thereby eliminating the need for a coating. 

Several of our attempts, although not failures, still require further tweaking to achieve a desired result. The sugars of the potato-starch infused strawberries DID caramelize without burning the berry, but in the end we decided they still wouldn't be anywhere near as delicious as fresh ones so why bother. (The green tops however, were fantastic).  The deep fried sriracha foam, stabilized with xanthan gum, finally did fry up without melting but the flavors became so subtle from the cooking process that exploring the addition of another protein to make it crispy hardly seemed worth the effort.

Raw popcorn kernels, ensconced in an elastic dough never popped. My claim, when I came up with this idea, was that it would be cool to have a popcorn flavored, puffy centered bite with a crispy outer shell. Cool sure, but between you and me I really wanted to see if anyone would get burned by exploding oil. Epic failure on both counts. Before trying this brilliant plan again using a thinner dough we took a gamble and plunged several kernels directly in the fryer. Still no pop!  With no time for further testing that evening, we're left still not sure if the kernels were "bad" or if there's a more sinister issue with improper heat transfer when corn is submersed in oil vs. in contact with a hot surface.  Another night.

We did have one enormous success but due to a hand-shake NDA I can't divulge the recipe until we determine its market potential (AKA sell it to the highest junk-food conglomerate bidder).  The most valuable take-away from our session however, (besides our impending multimillion dollar success in the snack industry) was sitting down and researching what actually happens to food when it's deep fried.  This wasn't my first fried-food rodeo but since our get together I've continued playing around with and learning the science of this cooking technique. Researching the "what's happening" at the micro level has given me a greater sense of what to watch for during the cooking process, and perfect results every time.

The following is an animation I put together explaining the process. The biggest "take-aways" for chefs not already intimately familiar with the process are A:) Those bubbles you see when foods are plunged in hot oil are superheated steam. This steam not only evaporates from, and therefore dehydrates the submersed food, but they also cool the surrounding oil and the continuous pressure of their violent escape keeps oil from entering the food.  The reason every deep-fry recipe says "don't overcrowd the pan" isn't to deprive you of timely, crispy golden deliciousness, but is there as an important reminder to keep the temperature of the surrounding oil hot enough to maintain the formation of these protective, evaporate bubbles. I know it can be  a tough one to follow but please, don't overcrowd the pan. The second most important visual to understand is B) when those bubbles stop, don't look away.  The end of the bubbles (steam) is an indication that the food is nearly devoid of water.  It's at this point that the browning begins and the food should be watched closely for that perfect golden color indicating it's time to eat. 

Now fry yourself something delicious and watch the show....or rather watch the show and THEN fry yourself something delicious.

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