The Natural Gourmet: Let There Be Fried Food

February 25, 2011

caramelized onions

Before we get started, I should mention that this is probably the first and last time we are going to be deep frying food at The Natural Gourmet since it is after all a "healthy cooking school" (so, enjoy all of this fried deliciousness while it lasts!). That being said, pan frying and deep frying are important cooking techniques to have under your belt, and once in a while it's nice to be able to whip up a batch of vegetable tempura or some homemade doughnuts. Last week, we covered "healthy" Basic Cooking Techniques I, including steaming, boiling and simmering. This week, it's all about cooking with good fats and oils. Check out these not-so-healthy, but oh-so-delicious Basic Cooking Techniques II below:

Sweat: Cooking over low heat with a small amount of oil or fat, releasing flavors, without cooking.

Try: Sweating some onions (the following directions are pictured below). First, slice half an onion in a sauté slice, which means that you slice  the onion with the grain. Try and make your slices as even as possible so they all cook the same. Next, pour some extra virgin olive oil into a small saucepan so that the oil barely coats the bottom, and start cooking the onions over a low flame. Cook the onions until they are translucent.

Tip: When sweating veggies, use some unrefined sea salt to draw out the moisture and to keep them from browning. This is a great cooking method for drawing out more flavor from your ingredients, particularly for making soups and stocks.

saute slice

sweating onions

Sauté: Cooking quickly in a small amount of fat or oil over medium-high heat. This cooking method sears the outside of the vegetables and locks in all of their flavorful juices.

Try: Sautéing some onions (the following directions are pictured below). Once again, slice the onions in a sauté slice. Next, pour enough EVOO in the pan to just coat the bottom. Start sautéing the onions under medium-high heat. The flame should reach the bottom of the pan. Notice the browning on the outside of the onions, pictured below, versus the translucent color of the sweated onions, pictured above.

Tip: When preparing the oil in your sauté pan for cooking, make sure it starts to shimmer and does not smoke. Also, try moving the onions around in the pan with a wooden spoon. The word sauté means "to jump", so get those onions movin' and groovin'!   Just resist the urge to move them around the entire time... Leave them alone at various points.

wooden spoon

sauteed onions

Caramelize: Browning the food's natural sugars on medium or high heat in oil or fat.

Try: Caramelizing the sweated onions (pictured below). Turn up the heat a little bit and continue to cook them. The caramelization will give the onions a slightly smoky, slightly sweet flavor.

Tip: There are two ways to create caramelized onions - sweating and sautéing. You get a more even caramelization after sweating the onions. Check out these beautiful caramel-colored onions below!

caramelized onions

Deglaze: Removing browned bits left in the pan after sauté ing or caramelizing by adding a cold liquid while the pan is still hot.

Try: Adding a little of cold white wine to the pan and using a wooden spoon to bring up the little bits of browned goodness. Deglazing retrieves the most valuable flavors from the bottom of the pan.

Tip: When using wine, or any kind of alcohol, give a little extra cooking time to steam out all of the alcohol. You can also use cold vegetable stock or cold fruit juice to deglaze the pan.

If you would like to put all of your "onions, sweat, and tears" to use, check out my recipe on Creative Delites for homemade veggie burgers with caramelized onions!


Dredge: Dipping in flour before frying.

Try: Preparing a tempura batter (1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, 1 cup cold seltzer, and 1 tablespoon arrowroot)

Tip: The batter should be the consistency of a heavy cream. If you use white flour instead of the whole wheat, you don't need to add the arrowroot. The purpose of the arrowroot is to add a higher starch content to the whole wheat flour.

Pan Fry: Frying in a skillet with oil that is halfway up the food item.

Try: Dredging 1/2-inch slices of tofu in a thin sheen of cornmeal and then pan frying them in canola oil.

Tip: Make sure to press out all of the water from the tofu with a dry hand towel - "Water is the enemy of frying." Also, shake off all the excess cornmeal. You don't want little bits of cornmeal hanging around in the bottom of skillet.

Pan Frying on FoodistaPan Frying

Deep Fry: Frying in enough oil to submerge the food so that it can float. This is a moderate heat cooking method.

Try: Deep frying veggies (broccoli florets, carrot straws, onions slices and parsley sprigs) for some vegetable tempura. Dip the veggies in the tempura batter and carefully lower them into the hot oil (try not to drop them in!). Remove with a slotted spoon once the veggies are lightly browned around the edges and place them on a drip pan to cool. Prepare a Shoyu dipping sauce (Shoyu, rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds and some fresh ginger) for the vegetable tempura.

Tip: The oil is hot enough for frying when the vegetables sizzle in the oil (test it out with a sliced onion). Make sure you season the tempura immediately out of the oil, don't wait until they cool. Good oils for frying include, peanut oil, grape seed oil, unrefined coconut oil, and soybean oil.

Deep Frying on FoodistaDeep Frying



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