While most people avoid deep fried foods on a regular basis, their crisp texture and rich flavor make them an ideal choice for special celebrations and occasional treats. Doing your own deep frying allows you to choose quality ingredients, including healthier oils, but it can also be difficult and dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Choosing the wrong oils, frying at the wrong temperature or re-using oil multiple times can produce an unappealing or unhealthy result. Here’s how to make the most of your deep frying oil without running into trouble.
Some oils make better, longer-lasting choices for deep frying. The best oils have a high smoke point, or temperature at which they begin to smoke and burn. They can stand up to the high temperatures required for deep frying without changing color or beginning to taste strange. The higher your oil’s smoke point is, the better your chances are of being able to use that oil for frying again. High smoke point oils include safflower, soybean and peanut, as well as palm, peanut and olive oils, all of which begin to darken at 450 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Refined oils always have a higher smoke point than their unrefined cousins, but may lose some of their distinctive flavor in the refining process. Animal fats, such as lard and tallow, have smoke points of about 370 degrees Fahrenheit, making them suitable for frying but not ideal. Ghee, or Indian clarified butter, has an unusually high smoke point of about 485 degrees, but can be hard to obtain. Never substitute ordinary butter. It begins to smoke at only 250 to 300 degrees and won’t last through even one frying cycle.
Keeping your fried food cooking at the right temperature reduces the risk of greasiness or burnt edges. It also slows down the oil decomposition process, allowing you to reuse oils more easily. Fry only at temperatures between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit, measuring oil temperature with a deep fry or candy thermometer. Never crowd the pan, as this can drop the temperature suddenly and cause poor results.
Benefits of Reusing Oil
Reusing your deep frying oil allows you to throw away less fat after frying. It also imparts a more complex flavor to later batches of fried treats. If well-filtered and handled carefully, deep frying oil can be reused several times, with potential frying time up to six total hours.
Reusing deep frying oil increases the chance of severe oil deterioration. When this happens, the oil discolors the food and gives it an unpleasant, bitter taste. Old oil can also develop a high percentage of trans fat, as well as some toxins, called acrylamides, which may be carcinogenic. Old oil can also lead to an increased risk of accidents if handled incorrectly. Never place cold deep frying oil directly onto a hot burner, as it can explode upwards suddenly.
If your deep frying oil has thickened significantly, is very dark in color or has a bitter or sour smell, pour it into an empty container and throw it away. Bad oil can also develop many tiny dark particles floating in it and tends to smoke at lower temperatures than fresh oil.
Saving Your Oil
The way you treat your leftover oil can affect how many times you get to use it, too. If you want to reuse oil safely, turn off the heat as soon as you finish cooking. Allow the oil to cool completely and pour it through a cheesecloth or muslin filter to remove all burnt particles. Store the oil in a closed container placed in a cool, dark location, allowing it to come to room temperature before you start frying.