Golden delicious

Got an unhealthy fear of frying? Then throw yourself in at the deep end, says Mark Hix
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The thought of a pan of hot fat puts some people in a cold sweat. Perhaps it's the fear of having to throw a damp tea towel over a flaming chip pan and dialling 999. But frying is no more dangerous than, say, chopping vegetables with a blunt knife and not putting damp paper under your chopping board to stop it sliding. Any cooking can be dangerous if you don't concentrate and don't have confidence.

The thought of a pan of hot fat puts some people in a cold sweat. Perhaps it's the fear of having to throw a damp tea towel over a flaming chip pan and dialling 999. But frying is no more dangerous than, say, chopping vegetables with a blunt knife and not putting damp paper under your chopping board to stop it sliding. Any cooking can be dangerous if you don't concentrate and don't have confidence.

Or maybe it's the fear of fat. Fried food has a reputation for being heavy and unhealthy. Unless you fry in cold fat that view needn't be true. If what you're frying isn't fatty in the first place, plunging it into hot fat creates an immediate seal and cooks it so quickly the fat hardly has a chance to soak in. Look at tempura. How light is that?

Anyway, fancy electric fryers make the job as easy as can be. Yet too often they sit at the back of the kitchen work top waiting for the day you decide to make chips. And now that oven chips are so ubiquitous, the fryer is looking a bit neglected.

Well, there are lots of other uses for it which bear no relation to the stuff you'll find in chippies, including those deep-fried saveloys and Mars Bars. So banish those fears of frying, and rethink the things you could try. Spring rolls, onion bhajis, pakoras, and lots of different tempuras will give your fryer new reasons for being.

Don't worry if you don't own one. Just fill a heavy-bottomed pan with fat and heat it up, and either use a thermometer or your judgement by dropping into the hot fat a little tester sample of what you are going to fry. I have an old cast-iron tempura pan which I bought from Habitat years ago. A handy little wire draining tray rests on the side of the pan keeping the first batch warm while the next batch cooks.

The fat you use makes a difference. For certain things I'm a good old-fashioned dripping man myself. It gives chips a slightly meaty, comforting and indulgent taste. I use it several times over and keep it in the fridge in a sealed jar. My grandmother used to put the whole pan, dripping and all in the cupboard until the next time she needed it. There was always a pan with the basket filled with white solidified fat that always had to be moved out of the way to get at anything else. Butchers shops and supermarkets sell dripping, as well as lard - pork fat - which is a good alternative.

I can see that not everyone appreciates using rendered animal fat, so you can also use vegetable or corn oil. It can be used more than once, if you keep it in the fridge. Fishy or spicy things do taint the oil, so only reuse that for similar dishes.

Nothing beats that hot, crisp satisfaction of food straight from the fryer. So, feel the fear and fry it anyway ...

Falafels

Makes about 20 patties

Falafels make an ideal snack, but they're much more than that. Considered the national dish of Egypt, they are eaten there for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or at any time of the day, hot or cold. You will find them in Lebanese and many other Arab and Middle-Eastern restaurants as mezze, or snacks.

I've eaten some made with chick peas, but traditionally falafels are made with dried broad beans. As it's summer and there's an abundance of broad beans, it occurred to me to make these little Middle-Eastern delights with fresh beans. It works just as well and tastes extremely summery, especially with that tangy yoghurt and mint dip.

400g podded weight of fresh broad beans or 150g dried, soaked overnight
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
12tsp ground coriander
1 12tsp ground cumin
1tbsp chopped parsley
1tbsp chopped dill
1tbsp chopped coriander leaves
5 spring onions, finely chopped
A good pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
Lemon wedges to serve

for the minted yoghurt

1tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
100g thick Greek yoghurt
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

If you are using dried beans you may have to remove the skins from the very large ones. Put the raw fresh beans (or soaked but not cooked dried ones) in a food processor with the garlic, ground coriander and cumin, and blend to a coarse pasty purée. You will have to stop the machine a couple of times to scrape the sides with a spatula so you get an even-textured purée. Remove from the machine and transfer into a bowl. Mix in the parsley, dill, coriander and spring onions; season with salt and cayenne pepper (they will need seasoning well). Make the patties by shaping small handfuls into balls in your hands and f flattening them slightly. Put them on a tray or plate and refrigerate for an hour.

Pre-heat about 8cm of vegetable oil to 160-180ºC/320-360ºF in a heavy bottomed pan or electric deep fryer. Fry the falafels, about 5 or 6 at a time depending on the size of the fryer, for 5-6 minutes until golden, then remove from the fat and drain on kitchen paper.

Meanwhile mix the mint with the yoghurt and season well. Serve hot with the lemon wedges. You could serve them in pitta bread as a vegetarian kebab, or have them cold for a picnic.

Paper-wrapped prawns

Serves 4

This is something I have eaten many times in the Viet Hoa Vietnamese restaurant in east London, but I have never managed to find a recipe for it.

These prawn parcels do scarily resemble the money-bag shapes I was on about a couple of weeks ago (Independent Magazine, 29 May), but they taste good enough to overcome any off-putting 1970s flashbacks. They need rice paper for wrapping (not the type used for soft rolls in Thai and Vietnamese cooking, but the type you'll find in the baking section that's used for biscuits like macaroons). You wouldn't usually associate this with savoury cooking - but it works, as the top ruff of paper isn't cooked but still melts in the mouth the way rice paper does, while the stuffed part below is fried crisp.

400g raw headless king prawns, shelled and de-veined
1tsp galangal or root ginger, peeled and finely grated
1tsp finely chopped lemon grass
1 small clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
3 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 sheets of rice paper (they are generally 14 x 18cm and come in 25g packs)
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying

for the dip

40ml Thai fish sauce
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 spring onion, finely sliced
2tsp finely chopped lemon grass

In a food processor, or by hand, coarsely chop the prawns then transfer to a bowl. Mix with the galangal, lemon grass, garlic and spring onions (which you can chop finely by hand or in a food processor, too) and season with salt and pepper.

Pre-heat about 8cm of oil in a large heavy pan or deep-fat fryer to 160-180ºC/320-360ºF.

Mix the ingredients for the dip and put into a serving dip bowl. When you are ready to eat put about a dessert spoonful of the prawn mix into the centre of each piece of rice paper and gather the sides up to form one of those dreaded money-bag shapes and carefully pinch it together just above the ball of chopped meat. When they are all done, carefully drop them into the hot oil with the help of a slotted spoon about four at a time and cook them for about 3-4 minutes, turning them with the slotted spoon so they cook evenly, as they may float to the top. Remove and drain on some kitchen paper and serve immediately with the dipping sauce.

Tempura summer vegetables

Serves 4 as a starter

I often get cravings for tempura and have to order it to get it out of my system. Then I'll get bored of it halfway through and end up leaving most of it. So many tempuras can be just plain dull. But this sauce - a sort of Oriental mayonnaise - from the London restaurant Nobu helps the cause.

Tempura can be made with all sorts of ingredients from mushrooms to vegetables, shellfish and offal. You know what I'd probably choose, but I'm selflessly giving you a nice, safe, interesting veggie alternative.

I like to put fragrant herbs like basil or lovage in the batter with the vegetables to give the tempura some extra, surprising flavours. Just coat large leaves with batter, or wrap leaves around a piece of veg and dip in batter. You can really add whatever vegetables you want as long as they are cut evenly and they are relatively soft and cook quickly. I wouldn't recommend root vegetables. But as well as the vegetables I've suggested here, you could include samphire, sugar snaps, thin slices of aubergine and courgette flowers, or shredded veg combined together with a bit of batter.

If you don't fancy making the batter, not that it's difficult, use the tempura batter mixes you can buy in shops and supermarkets.

Vegetable or corn oil for deep-frying
8 asparagus tips, cut to about 8-10cm long
8 pieces of sugar snap or mange tout
4 thin spring onions, halved
12 French beans, trimmed

for the sauce

2 egg yolks
A good pinch of salt
Freshly ground white pepper
2tsp rice vinegar
200ml vegetable oil
1tbsp (or more to taste) sweet chilli garlic sauce or sweet chilli sauce with a small crushed garlic clove mixed in

for the batter

200ml iced water
75g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
25g potato flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

First make the sauce: in a non-reactive bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the salt and pepper, then gradually trickle in the rice vinegar and oil until the sauce thickens, then add the sweet chilli garlic sauce.

Blanch the asparagus and French beans in boiling salted water for 1 minute, then refresh in cold water, drain and pat dry.

Make the batter by gradually mixing the iced water into the two flours and seasoning. Don't worry if it's a bit lumpy.

For deep frying, pre-heat vegetable or corn oil as before. Dip the vegetables in the batter and drop them into the fat a few pieces at a time until crisp but not browned, stirring them in the oil every so often. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on some kitchen paper and keep warm. Dip, fry and drain the asparagus tips in the same way. Serve with the sauce for dipping, plus, if you like, extra bottled sauces like sweet chilli or chilli and garlic.

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