A conversation with CStM about deep frying this evening. Mostly because we’ve just bought a deep fryer. It claims it should be filled with vegetable oil and not olive oil – apparently that’s unsuitable. Has to be corn oil or sunflower oil. Well it uses so much that olive oil would be prohibitive anyway, due to cost.
Then again, olive oil has been shown to have health benefits whereas corn oil definitely doesn’t. Still the fryer says it won’t work.
Anyone my age will remember the ‘chip pan’. A saucepan with a mesh basket for deep frying – mostly chips, but basically anything. When it was cold you couldn’t get the basket out because it was in a saucepan full of set lard. It was only washed when the lard needed to be changed.
It didn’t really need to be washed. There isn’t a living creature, microorganism or otherwise, that could survive in boiling lard. Once the heat was turned off, that damn thing was sterile.
Yes it was a high-risk cooking thing. There were many TV ads about what to do if it caught fire and that childhood indoctrination is why I insist on having a fire blanket near the cooker. Never needed to use one but it’s there just in case.
It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time. Is cooking with lard really as bad as they say? Or is it going to one day be scoffed at, like the ‘butter is evil, buy our plasticine substitute’ has been debunked? I’ve always preferred real butter. No substitute comes close.
I’ve fried meat in butter and it’s well worth it.
I think the clincher for me was fried bread. Some years back, the radio in Local Shop (while they were still allowed to use it in the back room before the ‘public access’ licencing became silly) had a talk show on. The DJ didn’t believe ‘fried bread’ was a real thing. Really. The youth have no idea what that is.
So what is it? In the old days, you’d have a lot of fat left in the frying pan and fat is food. You can scrape it into the bin or you can use it to fry something else or you can have it right now by frying some bread in it. If you were poor, as many people were, you could get that extra energy rather than waste it.
Fried bread, done properly, is gorgeous. If you have never experienced it you’ve really missed out. However, it does not work with modern cooking oils. It has to be in hard fat.
Maybe there’s a food scientist who can help with this. If you try to make fried bread in vegetable oil, you get a soggy mess. If you do it with lard or butter or bacon fat, you get a crispy result like a fried version of toast.
I have wondered if the hard fats have to be hotter so the surface of whatever is fried seals quickly and goes crispy. The vegetable oils are already liquid, they don’t need to melt, so they are cooking at a lower temperature. So they don’t seal the surface and have more time to soak into the food.
Which would mean that cooking with lard gives you less fat intake than cooking with vegetable oil. Most of the fat stays in the pan, not in the food.
Incidentally, these days, after frying up some bacon, we clean the frying pan. My grandmother didn’t. That bacon fat cooked tomorrow’s food. A friend of mine once described how, after he left home, he couldn’t get his baked beans to taste the way his mother made them. He was following the instructions on the tin – heat gently, don’t boil…
Then he visited his mother while she was cooking up some baked beans. In a frying pan. His words, as far as I can remember them –
‘The pan was bubbling like bloody Vesuvius. I said you’re not supposed to let them boil. She said fuck that, there’s two ounces of butter in there as well as yesterday’s bacon fat.’
Try that. You’ll be amazed.
We didn’t have an ‘obesity epidemic’. We didn’t have pompous arses telling us what we should eat (well yes we did, but we ignored them). We didn’t have things we couldn’t believe were not butter, we had butter. Not the processed plasticine that isn’t even margarine now. We didn’t have corn oil, we had melted lard. So why were we not all Weebles?
Well we also didn’t spend twelve hours a day sitting in front of computers playing at imaginary lives. We were outside playing real ones. That might have more of an effect than anything to do with food.
The fryer we have doesn’t mention lard in its instructions. Maybe it can’t handle that.
Maybe we have to get an old style chip pan to get the real deal.