Using the right kind of fat for different types of frying will make whatever you cook more delicious.
Generally, the higher a fat’s smoke point — the temperature at which the fat goes from hot and shimmery to smoky and acrid — the more versatile and durable it is as a frying medium. A wisp of smoke is fine before tossing ingredients into a wok for a stir-fry or skillet for a sear, but a plume rising from the pan means the oil is burning, and the taste of burnt (not browned or toasted) fat is rarely what we’re looking for in the kitchen.
To figure out which fat I want to use for which frying job, I think of them in these categories:
>> Low to medium heat
>> Butter (fresh and clarified) and ghee
Butter’s fat content ranges from 80% to 85%; the rest is 13% to 18% water and 1% to 2% milkfat solids and whey proteins. When heated, butter goes from melted to brown to burnt. If it hits that last stage, it will ruin whatever you’re cooking — plus, the fat colliding with the water over higher heats sputters and can burn you.
If you want butter’s distinctive flavor in dishes that require frying, use ghee, a staple in Indian cuisine, or clarified butter.
Clarifying butter — removing the whey and water by applying gentle heat — raises the point at which the butter smokes from 300 to 450 degrees. Ghee is cooked longer than clarified butter, giving it a nuttier aroma.
Even though ghee and clarified butter won’t smoke until that high temperature, their flavor is more potent when used in medium-low and medium-heat frying.
>> Medium to medium-high heat
>> Rendered animal fats (lard; beef tallow; chicken fat (schmaltz); duck fat)
Lard was fundamental to cooking around the world until the dawn of processed and heavily marketed fats like Crisco. It’s a staple of Mexican cooking.
Thanks to the popularity of the keto diet, other rendered animal fats are now readily available at supermarkets and online too. They taste the richest of all fats and with smoke points that range from 375 to 400 degrees, they can be used for searing, sizzling and other higher- heat cooking, including deep-frying.
The rendering process may leave some liquid in the fat, so watch out for popping when you heat it.
>> Medium-high to high heat
>> Refined vegetable-based oils (vegetable, canola, corn, peanut, sunflower, safflower, rice bran, virgin/light/pure olive, refined avocado and grapeseed)
Vegetable oils processed and refined after pressing end up with high smoke points, so they can be used in many ways and last longer in the pantry. What they lack in taste, they make up for in versatility.
With smoke points that range from 390 to 510 degrees, these oils can be used for stir-frying, high-heat sauteing and frying, whether shallow-frying or deep-frying, when food is partly or fully immersed in bubbling hot oil. Either technique requires knowing the exact temperature of the oil. If you maintain the correct temperature, you’ll be rewarded with crunchy outsides and properly cooked insides. The food won’t absorb excess oil or feel greasy and actually end up tasting light and crisp.
SO NOW, GET STARTED
If you’re new to deep-frying, start with doughnut holes. The simple batter doesn’t risk popping hot oil the way watery vegetables or meat might. Plus, it doesn’t require any dough resting or rolling and gives you the incomparable pleasure of freshly fried hot doughnuts.
These cakey doughnuts deliver the perfect ratio of crisp outsides to tender insides. The dough doesn’t call for any resting time or rolling of the dough, so fresh, hot doughnuts can be yours in less than 30 minutes.
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
Fill a small saucepan with oil to a depth of 1 inch (about 1-1/2 cups). If you have a deep-fry thermometer, clip it to the side. Heat over medium to 350 degrees.
While oil heats, in a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, salt and sugar.
In a small bowl, whisk buttermilk, egg and butter until well-blended.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredients. Gently fold until smooth.
Place powdered sugar in a small bowl.
If you don’t have a thermometer, test heat of the oil by dropping in a tiny dollop of batter. It should bubble immediately and steadily, but not violently. If it’s bubbling too hard, lower heat. If it’s not bubbling enough, raise it.
Using a small cookie scoop or measuring teaspoon, scoop a heaping teaspoon of dough, then carefully drop it into the hot oil. If using a teaspoon, push out the dough with another small spoon. Repeat to fit a single layer of doughnut holes in the oil without crowding; you can fit 3 to 4 at a time.
Fry, turning once to evenly brown, until puffed and golden brown, about 2 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain for a few seconds, then transfer to the bowl of sugar and toss gently to coat while hot so the sugar sticks to the dough. Transfer to a rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough, adjusting heat to maintain oil temperature. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes about 20.
>> Substitutions: If you don’t have buttermilk, mix 1/4 cup plain yogurt with 2 tablespoons milk to use immediately, or stir 1 teaspoon lemon juice or distilled white vinegar into 1/3 cup milk and let sit for 5 minutes.
>> Cinnamon-sugar doughnut holes: Stir 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon into 1/2 cup granulated sugar for tossing.
>> Glazed doughnut holes: Mix 1-1/4 cups powdered sugar with 2 teaspoons water to form a runny glaze. Dip fried doughnut holes in glaze, turning to coat. Let stand on a wire rack until glaze sets.
Nutritional information unavailable.