Growing up, whenever we were going to have something fried for dinner — usually fish — my father set up a station in the garage. Whether it was at my parents’ house at the Jersey Shore or, once they retired, in Coastal Carolina, my father had one of those electric fryers more wide than deep that he used to fry fish of any sort: smelt, tile, grouper, or whatever he caught recently that he thought we’d enjoy fried.
I used to think it was a little weird that he set up in the garage, but as an adult, I understood he was probably trying to get away from my mother and me. In addition, he usually synced frying fish with the SEC football schedule, so he’d go out there to watch a game on a boxy little TV from the early ‘90s and drink a coupla knocks — usually some dubious brand of beer. He’d set up the fry station on a newspaper-covered card table an arm’s length from his East Coast topo map he had bulletin-boarded to the wall (for planning fishing trips), his tackle boxes, and drawers and pegboard filled with enough tools to outfit a hardware store. It was his sanctuary.
My father died a couple of years ago and before he passed, I managed to partner up with another frying enthusiast — though Rick, who owns a bakery in Jersey City, tends to fry bomboloni or suppli rather than fish he hauled in from the ocean.
When we were first dating and living in Pittsburgh, Rick did this pop-up at a place that I love, Bar Marco, in the Strip District: The event was inspired by an Italian friggitoria, where a small menu lists a bounty of little fried things. For this particular event, Rick’s menu included fried minnows (they were delicious) served in a paper cone with lemon, fried polenta, maybe some suppli — I don’t remember, exactly. What I do remember is that it was such a fun time — both the spirit of the event and because fried foods are generally fun.
I’m not talking about fried Snickers bars or Oreos — over-the-top circus food. I’m talking about fried fish, fried baby artichokes, maybe some zucchini and or potatoes. So for today’s “What’s for Dinner?”, I’m embracing the spirit of a friggitoria, offering three fried things as well as Mark’s primer on frying.
Members, I’ll be sending you a budget farro recipe on Thursday — the same day as our Ask Holly Anything discussion from 1 to 3 p.m. EST. (Turns out this is a long-winded post and I can’t fit all the recipes and fry advice in one shot).
If you, too, have the fear of frying that Mark has written about, I hope you are inspired to move beyond it and enjoy yourself.
Battered and Fried Vegetables
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
There are lots of ways to batter and deep-fry vegetables, but this is the most basic. You can use zucchini, eggplant, winter squash, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus tips, onion rings, fennel, beets, or carrots. Hard vegetables like potatoes should be sliced no more than 1/4 inch thick. Small or thin vegetables like mushrooms or green beans should be left whole. These are great served with a dipping sauce. Or finish with kosher salt and lemon wedges for last-minute squeezing.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup beer or sparkling water
Good-quality vegetable oil for frying
1 1/2 to 2 pounds vegetables — in wedges (potatoes, sweet potatoes), halved and quartered lengthwise (zucchini or yellow squash), or in rings or coins (onions, carrots, or even lemons).
1. Mix 1 cup of flour with the baking powder. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Whisk in the egg and beer until just combined and the consistency of pancake batter. It’s okay to have some lumps in the batter; you don’t want to overmix. Put the remaining 1 cup flour in a shallow bowl or plate. Prepare all the vegetables as necessary and have them near the flour and batter. Line a baking sheet with towels or fit it with a wire rack.
2.Put at least 2 inches oil in a large pot over medium-high heat; bring to 350°F. Keep an eye on the temperature of the oil.
3. When the oil is ready, dredge one piece of food at a time lightly in the flour, dip into the batter to coat, and add to the oil. Don’t crowd the vegetables; be prepared to work in batches. Cook, turning once if needed, until golden all over, 3 to 7 minutes. As the pieces finish, transfer them to the prepared pan to drain. Sprinkle with more salt and additional pepper if you like, and serve right away with pesto, fast tomato sauce, a flavored aioli, ranch dressing, salsa verde, or your favorite dipping sauce we have failed to mention here.
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
The crisp, light breading in this recipe has been my go-to since I began cooking. It works for shrimp, clams, oysters, squid, very small fish, and sturdy fillets — catfish is classic. As with all deep frying, make sure the oil is properly heated, and avoid overcrowding the pot.
Whatever seafood you choose, make sure everything is patted dry before dredging. I like to cut squid bodies into rings and include tentacles. Peeled large shrimp and shucked oysters, mussels, and clams are worth the extra work.
Good quality vegetable oil, as needed
1 1/2 ounces skinned fish fillets, whole or cut into chunks, or shelled and cleaned squid, shrimp, oysters, or clams.
Salt and pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
Lemon wedges for serving
1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with towels or fit it with a wire rack. heat the oven 200°F. Put 2 or 3 inches of oil in a large pot over medium-high heat; bring to 350°F. Meanwhile, season the seafood with salt and pepper, and combine the flour and cornstarch in a bowl.
2. When the oil is hot, start dredging the seafood lightly in the flour-cornstarch mixture, tapping to remove excess, then add the pieces slowly to the oil without crowding. Cook in batches, adjusting the heat as necessary so the temperature remains nearly constant.
3. Fry, turning once or twice, until the seafood is lightly browned and cooked through; a skewer or thin-bladed knife will pass through each piece with little resistance. This should take no longer than 5 minutes total, unless your pieces are large or extra thick. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining seafood. Sprinkle with additional salt if you like and serve with lemon wedges.
Suppli: Fried Rice Balls
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Time: 30 minutes, with prepared rice
2 cups cold cooked rice, preferably risotto
3 ounces fresh mozzarella, chopped
2 ounces prosciutto, minced, optional
2 cups fresh bread crumbs, finely ground
Corn, vegetable, or other neutral oil for frying
1. Break one of the eggs into the rice and mix well. Form the rice into 2-inch balls. With your thumb, make a small indentation into the center of each ball, fill with a little mozzarella and prosciutto (if you're using it); reseal the ball with the risotto around it.
2. Lightly beat the remaining two eggs and dip each ball into the egg mixture and then the bread crumbs. Set the finished balls on waxed paper; they can be refrigerated for up to a couple of hours or cooked right away.
3. Put about 3 inches of oil in a deep saucepan and turn the heat to medium-high; bring to 350°F (at this temperature, a breadcrumb will sizzle, but not violently, when you put it in the oil). Gently slide the balls into the oil and fry until golden brown, turning once if necessary, about 4 minutes.
4. Drain on paper towels and serve hot or at room temperature.
Some Advice for Frying
Deep frying submerges food in hot oil to cook and brown evenly. when it’s done right, the result is crisp, moist, hot, and ethereal. (I’m sure I don’t have to sell you on how good fried food can be.) Mostly, success depends on having enough good oil at the right temperature, usually 350°F or a bit higher.
Though deep-frying is easy, it’s a bit of a production, so I consider it special occasion cooking. but the rewards are worth the work, especially if you don’t mind people hovering around the kitchen to get their food while it’s at peak crispness. Use a large, deep, heavy-duty pot. The best oils are grapeseed (neutral and clean), peanut (especially for Asian-type dishes), and olive (best for European-type frying; just be careful not to overheat it).
Put at least 2 inches of oil in the pot (3 if there’s room). There should be several inches left to allow the food and oil to rise without overflowing. Heat the oil over medium heat and use a candy or deep-frying thermometer to monitor the temperature (all deep-frying recipes give you a specific temperature). If you don’t have a thermometer, put a piece of plain bread in the oil. It should bubble, float immediately to the top, and turn golden brown within 30 to 60 seconds. If it sinks and soaks up oil, turn up the heat a notch. If it doesn’t sink and turns brown too quickly, lower the heat a bit. Give the oil a few minutes to adjust, then test again.
While the oil heats, set up a way to drain the food as it comes out of the oil: either a towel-lined plate or a wire rack fitted over a rimmed baking sheet.
Allow plenty of room in the pot when frying, and work in batches if necessary. Gently turn the food with a slotted spoon or spider as it cooks so it browns evenly. If you’re new to deep frying, you might want to take a piece out when it looks done and cut it open. there should be a nice crisp crust surrounding a tender, just-done interior. Make sure the oil returns to the right temperature between each batch. After you transfer the fried food out of the oil to drain, sprinkle on some salt, and let it cool only enough to eat without burning your mouth.
Overheating oil is dangerous. If you see the oil start to smoke, turn off the heat; carefully move the pot to a cool burner if using an electric stove. If the oil catches fire, don’t put water on it or try to move the pot; both risk spreading the fire. Turn off the heat. If you can, slip a lid over the pan. If you have one, use a fire extinguisher suited for grease flames or smother it with a cup or two of baking soda, flour, or sand. You should not deep-fry if you don’t have any of these items at home.