Deep fried fish and seafood can be light, crisp, and wonderful -- or heavy, sodden, and awful. Making the right choices and using the proper techniques can make all the difference. The tips below will help you get the best possible results.
- Choose the Right Oil: The 'smoke point' of an oil is the temperature at which it begins to break down, give off acrid smoke, and become unusable. When deep frying, choose an oil with a high smoke point (peanut, grapeseed, safflower, soybean, sunflower, canola, and extra light olive oil are all good choices) and a flavor that is either neutral or appropriate to the type of food you're cooking. Don't use unrefined oils for deep frying, as their smoke points are much lower.
- Use an Oil Thermometer There are many ways to estimate whether an oil is hot enough for frying (bread cubes, a pinch of flour, chopsticks), but there is only one way to know. An oil thermometer is inexpensive, but invaluable when deep frying. If a recipe doesn't specify a temperature, 360 degrees is a good choice for deep frying most fish and seafood.
- Don't Crowd the Pan Putting a lot of food into the oil all at once can lower the temperature drastically and allow oil to seep into the food. Frying in small batches (not using more than half of the surface area of the oil is a good rule of thumb) produces much better results.
- Drain Well Traditionally, paper towels, brown paper bags, or paper plates were used for draining fried foods. A better idea: use a rack. A roasting rack or cooling rack (used for baked goods), placed over a baking pan or cookie sheet, will allow fried foods to drain and help them stay crisp, too. (Note: if you do use paper towels, be sure to use plain, unprinted towels only)
- Keep 'em Warm Before you start frying, turn your oven to the lowest setting. That way, you can keep your already cooked foods warm on a rack (see above) while the next batch is frying.