We all know that fried food is not particularly good for us, but that doesn’t stop us craving the occasional crispy, crunchy golden brown something or other. Because frying means food comes into contact with hot fat all the flavour and nutrients are sealed in which makes it tasty. In moderation it isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially if you follow a few simple healthy eating guidelines to make sure that it doesn’t carry too much fat into your system.
First of all you should choose the oil you are going to use with care. Hard fats such as lard, margarine and butter are not good as they are high in saturated fats, as are many blended vegetable oils which contain coconut or palm oil. For best results it is advisable to use pure vegetable oils – sunflower, corn and safflower are good. Olive oil is a beneficial and nutritious oil but does not survive high temperatures so it is not good to use for very hot frying. Smoking temperature is important when frying, if the oil has a slight blue smoke or haze rising from it then it is too hot and will begin to break down which makes it indigestible. Sunflower and Corn Oil have the highest smoking temperature, and are probably the best to use unless you have a particular reason to use anything else.
There are a number of ways in which you can fry food. Deep frying means the food is completely immersed in the hot oil and is probably the least healthy method especially if too much food is placed in the fryer at once. This cools the temperature and causes the food to absorb oil rather than seal. If you must deep fry then be sure to drain the food on kitchen paper, turning it a few times to drain off as much oil as possible.
Shallow frying quickly seals the surface of the food and. As it is generally small items that are shallow fried, very little more cooking is required. If you do need to cook it more than turn the heat down once everything is sealed and allow to cook more gently. A healthier method of shallow frying is to dry fry. Using a good quality non-stick pan, heat it to a high temperature and drop the food in. It will then seal quickly and cook in any fat that it releases itself. This is particularly good for browning minced or ground meats, bacon and sausages. Again you should always drain everything on kitchen paper before serving. Shallow and dry frying are often used to brown off whole pieces of meat before putting them into a casserole or other type of dish and it can be very successful in removing any fat from the meats.
Stir frying is not really frying at all. It is generally used for vegetables and meat which have been finely chopped to allow for quick cooking. A tiny amount of oil is used, personally I put a little oil on a piece of kitchen paper and just wipe the inside of the Wok or pan that I am going to use. Once the pan is really hot I drop the food in, turn it quickly to seal and then add the cooking liquid I am using. It might be a well flavoured stock, a little Soy or Fish Sauce or even just water. The food then steams as the liquid flashes off. This is one of my favourite methods of cooking as it seals in all the nutritional elements, you can add all sorts of flavours and it cooks quickly as well as being very tasty.
Whilst frying is not really in accordance with healthy eating guidelines we have to accept the realities of life – we like fried food. Given that if you use some of the methods outlined and don’t indulge too often, the occasional ‘fry up’ won’t do too much damage.