Tools of the Trade


Friends, my fear of deep-frying is now a thing of the past. I can now make all the shrimp tempura and beignets that I want without worrying that I will burst into flames. It all started when I felt the need to go back to the basics of cooking — start from the beginning. With a test kitchen format, I constantly question the way things are done or cooked. How do I streamline a recipe without sacrificing taste? How do I minimize the dishes to be washed without sacrificing the focus on the food?  And how the heck do I use a deep fryer? !

So I decided to enroll in the Culinary Arts Program of the University of Richmond for their Winter-Spring schedule. The first course was called “Tools of the Trade.” I really thought all we were going to discuss were kitchen utensils and equipment. How can you talk about all this stuff for 6 hours? It turned out, much to my glee, that the utensil portion took only 1 and ½ hours and shifted to lessons in knife skills, which I think I could use a refresher on. Anyway, we proceeded to chop mirepoix and debone a chicken to be used for the stock that would be needed for the different cooking methods we were going to learn the next day.

And so the next day came. The stock was already made (thank goodness) so the chef-instructor went ahead and talked about different cooking methods. My eyes zeroed in on the  deep-frying notes on the hand-outs. I raised my hand and said “I’m scared of deep-frying, I have always felt I needed a mask for this!  Are you going to show us how to do it properly?” He said “Absolutely!” So I waited patiently as he discussed roasting, which was also interesting, but I wanted to learn about the frying. Finally, he said (and these were not his exact words) “Deep frying has really gotten a bad rap about all the fat it introduces into the food, but if done correctly your food is not as greasy as you think it is. At the right temperature, the frying simply seals your food in a crust and lets the moisture within the food steam-cook itself. The problem with most deep-frying methods is that they tell you to get the oil to 350°F, but this is not hot enough. You have to get the oil to 380°F because as you drop your food into the oil, it is going to lower the temperature and you want to keep it at 360°F and above.” He also said  that olive oil should be reserved only when its distinct flavor needed to come through with the food; It is expensive and has a low smoking point (375°F) which makes it impractical to use for deep frying. Canola oil is best for deep-frying because it has a higher smoking point (400°F), a mild flavor and is cheap.

As the class broke up into 4 groups of four we were taxed with several cooking assignments. We were to make vegetable soup thickened by a roux, roast chicken legs at 450°F, deep-fry some breaded shrimp, and pan-sauté a chicken breast, plus make an herb sauce for it. I helped with slicing the chicken for the pan sauté and the prep work for the soup. After that was done, I asked the group if they would mind if I did the frying of the breaded shrimp. Nobody seemed to mind, so I proceeded to flour and bread the large shelled crustaceans.

There was a gallon of shimmering oil in a pot on the stove top where two groups had successfully finished their deep-fry. An attached thermometer registered 360 °F; my instructor told me to wait till it got to 380°F. I was starting to get cold feet. “Come on, Veronica, think of all the fried chicken recipes you always wanted to try!” I told myself. When it reached the desired temperature, I took a deep breath and dropped a couple of shrimp into the pot of hot oil using the spider. The oil started to boil furiously but looked like I had it all in control. Yehey! I turned out beautiful golden brown crusty shrimp and they were not greasy at all. On my way home that night, I had visions of myself looking for my Japanese cookbook with that tempura recipe that I’ve been longing to make. I also made a mental note to buy a box of Café Dumond beignet mix from the supermarket. Fresh beignets with my coffee…how cool is that?!

I planned to make the tempura Saturday night and the beignets on Sunday morning. That Saturday, I forgot to buy the cooking oil when I went for my weekly groceries. I only remembered that important ingredient for deep-frying when I went to buy my thermometer. How could I possibly forget? How could I deep-fry when I don’t have enough oil to actually call it a deep-fry? At first, I thought it was a sign that I should not be messing around with this method of cooking. But I know that if I give in to these “signs” every time I forget something then I probably will never cook again since I am notorious for forgetting to procure important ingredients all the time. So I went back to the supermarket to get my 5 quarts of canola oil.

My tempura recipe did not come from my Japanese tome. Instead, I went for the beer batter tempura from The Cook’s Book by Jill Norman. It was simple enough and did not require making the tempura sauce–only a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lime afterwards.


           I poured almost 8 cups of oil into a 4-quart saucepan. The thermometer was hanging from the side of the pot, the bottom not touching the base of the pan. As the oil started to get hot, I heard little popping sounds coming from the shimmering oil. And, do you all know why? I had to wash the thermometer at the last minute, so of course it was not thoroughly dry when I attached it to the pan. Little drops of water in hot oil–a big NO-NO. I know, I really should be banned from the kitchen. The oil eventually stopped popping as the temperature approached 380 °F. I battered up 8 pieces of shrimp, and used the spider to drop it into the oil. Immediately, I knew I had done something stupid. The shrimp clumped up together and I had this huge ball of frying shrimp tempura!  I guess it’s obvious I’m still an amateur at this. Anyway, I made sure that I dropped the succeeding battered shrimp individually LIKE the RECIPE STATED. It was a good thing the tempura turned out very good; crispy outside, juicy inside and not greasy. Hurrah for my first attempt! Disposing the oil was a big pain. Since the container for the oil was not yet empty, I had to give up one of my favorite plastic containers to hold the used oil to be disposed off  later in the trash (Do not rid of huge amount of oil in the garbage disposal, your county will not like it.). Of course I had to wait for the oil to totally cool down before transferring the used oil. I cannot reuse this oil for the beignets. Ideally, I could have made the beignets first and then reused the oil for the tempura since the former fries pretty cleanly and would not gunk up the oil as much. This time, I washed my thermometer ahead of time so it would be clean and dry for use with the beignets the next day.

I decided to make my beignets from scratch. I found this recipe from a blog called New Orleans Cuisine and the recipe looked close to the real thing. My first encounter with beignets was at Café Beignet in New Orleans . I remembered it distinctly because the “hungry” hubby did not understand why I wanted to eat fried dough, especially near dinnertime. But I said the name beignet (pronounced bin-yay) was so cute that I wanted to know what it tasted like. I asked him if he wanted any, but he said NO. So I ordered 6 pieces – which was a good thing because the hubby-who-said-no ate 2 pieces and wanted more if I did not keep the bag away from him. (Notice a recurring theme over here…we always fight over food!)


Anyway, back to my beignet-making. I made my dough the night before (Saturday) and was awake bright and early Sunday to roll it out and shape it into beignets. The deep-frying this time went more smoothly. I did overcook and undercook some of the beignets, but I finally got the hang of the timing after the first 4 casualties. Beignets cook pretty fast; once the color turns golden brown on one side, flip them to let the other sides brown. Lay them on a paper-lined baking sheet. Then sprinkle powdered sugar liberally on them.

I have been dreaming of this moment for years; having nice hot beignets with my morning coffee–that first bite into a slightly-crusty outer layer sweetened perfectly by delicate powdered sugar to the soft tender core releasing the aroma of freshly-made bread tickling your nostrils. Simply delicious! 

Though the beignets are best eaten when they are freshly made, you could wrap them in foil and leave them at room temperature for a day or two. You can reheat in a toaster-oven at 350°F for 8 to 10 minutes.

            This indeed was a milestone weekend because I finally got to cook shrimp tempura and beignets, two foods that I was not able to make before because I had a fear of a lot of hot oil. This really opened a lot of other cooking opportunities for me: fried chicken, katsudon and the best of them all deep-fried pork belly confit!

             I went through a gallon of canola oil this weekend. I think my pot was too big and with a minimum of 2-3 inches of oil, I had to use a lot. I might need to get a 3-quart, straight-edged saucepan, which should be appropriate for most of my deep-frying requirements.

So, what should I be working on next?  At the end of the class last week, I raised my hand again and said, “I have one more fear – caramel!” The instructor grinned and said, “Funny you should say that; we will be tackling that next week!” Stay tuned!



32 thoughts on “Tools of the Trade

  1. Congratulations on getting over your fear of frying! Not that we eat a lot of fried food these days, but when the urge hits (fresh homemade beignets? oh, yeah), it's nice to know you can do it. The course you took sounds great; I'll have to look for something like that around here.

  2. Your beignet is really excellent. And that tempura, beer batter even better!!! I started fooling around deep-frying things when I was 9 or 10. You're right, when do it right, the oil only acts as heating element, definitely not part of the ingredient in the food 😀

  3. I am hungry already! Your beignets looked very yummy. My concern with deep frying is what to do with all of the leftover oil. Are there any rules or health concerns about reuse? Would a stand alone deep fat fryer be a good purchase? Also, I'm intrigued by the deep fried pork belly confit.

  4. Hi Brilynn – when I go down the caramel road , can you hold my hand ?

    Tanna dear, you don't need to buy a deep fryer. All you need is a deep pot and a thermometer, it is more flexible that way.:)

    Thanks Lydia, I'm quite pleased with the results.Fresh beignets are something I look forward to now.

    Hi Gattina -you are lucky to be an experienced deep fryer. I have a weakness for fried food…properly fried that is.

    Thanks pjpink. I don't think there are any hard and fast rules about reuse. Personally I would not reuse the oil if I have used it on meat. If on vegetables or in case beignets, I would strain it and reuse only once. Disposing, we are told in class not to pour it down the drain but put it back in its container if empty. I would keep a couple of empty big water bottles around and put it in there with a funnel, wrap tigthtly with a trash bag and dump in the garbage. I shall be trying Pork belly confit soon from ruhlman's book charcuterie…I just received confirmation that my pink salt(an ingredient) has been shipped 🙂

    elle – thanks for the info. I just checked it out and I am very interested in the california rice oil.

  5. I love beignets and tempura, but since I fry in a cast iron I am never that motivated to splatter the whole countertop and stovetop…you're braver than I am for getting all the tools out. I think I'd fry everyday if it was not for the whole clean up thing!!

  6. As my wife can vouch, I am not a big fan of fatty stuff, fried food included. However I enjoy occasional french-fries at Burger King along with a nasty Whopper!! I was also worried about oil splatter all over the kitchen, but if your pot is deep enough, not a single drop will splatter. It will splatter a lot if anything too moist is placed in the hot oil … I was pleasantly surprised to see the beignets not oily at all. I can eat these french donuts again soon!!

  7. Veronica, I admire your dedication. It is great that you were able to finally quell the voices inside and motivate yourself to fulfill your cooking desires. The shrimp tempura and beignets look wonderful – how I would love to wake up tomorrow morning to some to have with my coffee…Do you live nearby? 🙂 Congratulations.

  8. Veron,

    I used to fry almost on a daily basis when I was single and living with my dad and my brother – he would only eat fried food. It was a nightmare because we lived in a small apartment and the whole thing would smell like oil forever. :S

    Now, I only fry when it's 100% necessary – I use the oven a lot instead.

    Even though, I know that frying sometimes is mandatory and I think it's great you're "facing your fear", my friend!

    Those beignets are so tempting – this isn't helping me stay on a diet. 😉

  9. Hi Helen – if you use a deep pot and get enough oil in it, it'll be splatter free provided you don't get too much moisture in the food.
    Thanks Sarina – what's your issue with eggwhites?
    "hungry" hubby – I have a feeling I will be making these again soon.
    Thanks Shaun – I have lived my life in avoidance. As my approach my 40th birthday I have decided to face my fears and enjoy life!
    Hi Patricia – frying in an apartment is not fun. I would still fry only when necessary too! The beignets shouldn't be bad for your diet ;).
    T.W – I did not know we had the same fears for deep-frying!
    Susan – you should give it a try…it is not as greasy as you think.
    Kristen – if I got the courage I'm sure you will too! 🙂
    McAuliflower – you just don't know what cooking skeletons lay in my pantry!

  10. Your shrimp tempura look completely tantalizing. Fried food that's hot and crisp (and not greasy!) is really one of the most delicious things ever. Congratulations on overcoming your fear of frying. Well done!

    And nice site! Great food and beautiful pictures.

  11. I do love to fry stuff….I try not to do it often though…such a pain to clean up after.
    I love both things you made though…definitly worth the clean up.

  12. I like to use my wok to deep fry. The rounded bottom saves on oil. Depending on what you fry the oil can be reused -several times. You can refreshen the oil by frying a few pieces of ginger in it. Try it, it's an old chinese trick that my grandma used to do!

  13. Thanks Julie – it took me a while to convince the hubby that deep fried food is not necessarily greasy! It's is just delicious.
    Hi Peabody – you're right, thinking of the cleanup makes you carefully decide if it is worth it to deep-fry.
    Vida – you are lucky to have learned these cooking tips from your grandma. My grandma is an awesome cantonese cook and I have not learned a single thing :(. The ginger tip is great! I wish I could use a wok with my thermometer…maybe I'll device a way to hang it from the hood ;).

  14. I make shrimp (and chicken) tempura often.. it's so good! I'm glad you got over your fear of frying. When done moderately, it's a fabbbbbbbulous way to prepare food.

    Your beignets look yummy, too!

  15. Congratulations on facing your cooking fear! I was also a bit hesitant about deep frying but a terrible craving for Oliebollen, a fried dough snack from the Netherlands, made me bite the bullet and go for it. I was so happy I did 🙂 Your tempura sounds yummy and the beignets look beautiful!

  16. Thanks Lisa, overcoming deep-frying definitely opened the door for more food choices to make!
    Hi Joey – I guess fried dough is just what we needed to push us to face our fears!

  17. Oh boy, I haven't had beignets OR funnel cakes in a very long time. I remembered having it with that BIG cuppa hot cocoa in that little corner cafe in New Orleans, near the french quarters I think, thanks for sharing, cheers 🙂

  18. Veron, if I may suggest, I think your tempura shrimp needs some baking powder hehe, I usually use Shirakiku brand, easily found in any Asian grocery market, the batter is light, and your shrimp is fried to a light crisp and perfect, hope you try it, cheers !:)

  19. Thanks for the suggestion, meltingWok! I always wondered how the tempuras ended up light and crisp. Do you also know what they do to make it very long and straight?

  20. You are most welcome, Veron 🙂 We tend to devein the shrimps before putting them into the batter, that is why it curled up when its fried. Restaurants style usually do not do not devein the shrimp, and second, they use a mallet to lightly pound the shrimp to elongate the shrimp. Also, restaurants use smaller shrimps and make it look bigger by using that technique mentioned, you think you got a big jumbo shrip, think again hehe 🙂 That technique, along with baking powder (for the puffy effect) and a good batter (usually with egg whites), your shrimp tempura will eventually turned out really nice, and straight. Hope this technique helps, cheers !:)


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