Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fried Disaster

I wish I had a more successful experiment to feature for my first cooking related post, but sadly last night's frying was a bit more tricky than it seemed in my head. They can't all be winners, right? I looked for corn dog and french fry recipes online, cross-referencing and taking tips from recipe reviewers. Here's a tip: If you want to attempt something you have little to no experience in, follow the instructions verbatim. May you learn from my mistakes.

My first mistake was attempting 2 batters and 3 foods at the same time in massive volumes (I was at my mom's house, and we were going to feed the crew- plus, we can freeze leftovers, right?). It took for-ev-er. My second mistake came when I put the amount of baking soda the baking powder required. I don't know what it did to the mixture, but measuring wrong is never a good thing. Oops. My third mistake was leaving the batter sitting out so long - the corn dog batter lost its fizz and became flat. I did emergency CPR on it and tried to revive it, which I did- but not before it sustained permanent brain damage. I think if I tried it again 1. as the recipe said verbatim, 2. immediately after forming the batter, and 3. isolated from any other project, I think it may turn out okay. I'm not a huge fan of fried foods, but I do like onion rings and corn dogs. Of everything we tried, the onion rings turned out the best. I am, however, hesitant to try another frying session anytime soon. I'll stick to baking. As my younger brothers said, it's like working at McDonalds but without getting paid.

The french fries
Here is the recipe for the french fries/onion ring batter. I modified it from this recipe. 

2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon onion salt
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chipotle (or paprika, or cajun spices, or whatever)
1/2 cup beer, or as needed
1 cup vegetable oil for frying

1) Slice potatoes into French fries, and place into cold water so they won't turn brown while you prepare the oil.
2) Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. While the oil is heating, sift the flour, garlic salt, onion salt, (regular) salt, and paprika into a large bowl. Gradually stir in enough water so that the mixture can be drizzled from a spoon.
3) Dip potato slices into the batter one at a time, and place in the hot oil using tongs so they are not touching at first. The fries must be placed into the skillet one at a time, or they will clump together. Fry until golden brown and crispy. (about 6-8 min) Remove and drain on paper towels.
*Alternative method: If you don't care about them sticking together, put them in an airtight container with the batter +1tbsp additional liquid and shake for 1-2 mins until coated. If you're impatient, you can toss bunches in at a time and shake them loose 1 min into frying.
**We can also make onion rings!

The first thing I did was create the two batters while my brother Josh julienne-cut the potatoes (after scrubbing them heartily, of course).

I added beer to the fry batter for the flavor, but if you prefer just regular seasoned fries, use water instead.

I doubled the recipe (and ended up doubling again for more onion rings) but when I used the amount of liquid in the recipe, the batter came out more like dough. Below you'll see me adding more beer- I added the whole bottle! I would add a bit less or balance it out with a couple extra tablespoons of flour because it got a little runny in the end. It should be thick- not doughy, but not runny either. Since the recipe has good reviews, I should have adhered closer to it and seen what results it would yield.

The oil had to heat to 365 degrees. Be careful after the first few batches- if the heat goes down, you need to wait for it to warm back up to 365. We used oil that was saved from previous frying endeavors by my family.

I used a tall, airtight container to shake the batter over the fries. For the onions, I dipped them into the bowl (they will break if you aren't careful!) See the batter? It created a thin layer on the potatoes. If you add some flour or less beer, they should create a thicker coating.

Nathan and Marcus pitched in, working the slowest "fast food" ever.

The onion rings fried up much quicker than the potatoes. Potatoes take a while to get cooked to the center- you don't want a hard french fry! It took about 7 minutes per batch for the fries, and just until brown for the onions.

Success! These were super crunchy and delicious! We couldn't make them fast enough to meet the demand.

The potatoes were good too, but I'm not big on fries in the first place. Make sure you keep paper towels in supply so they can absorb excess oil (it adds up fast).

Marcus was getting truly inspired, so he threw in a peanut (not pictured) and a fortune cookie covered in chipotle beer batter:

It tasted awful. It got mushy.

The corn dogs

Moving on to the corn dogs. This was... an interesting experience. I know I did something terribly wrong because the recipe clearly works. Actually, there were two recipes I took from. One with buttermilk and one without. And I added creamed corn because Alton Brown did. Don't experiment unless you've done a trial run! Alton Brown knows better than I do. I should have adhered to one recipe, and well... cooked them immediately. I should have added more flour because I used more liquid- the creamed corn, and honey instead of sugar. Mistakes were made. This is the recipe I used and doubled:

1 quart oil for deep frying
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup honey
8 oz creamed corn
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
1 egg, beaten
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 pounds hot dogs
wooden sticks

1) Heat oil in the fryer to 365 degrees.
2) In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in melted bacon drippings.
Make a well in the center, and pour in the egg, buttermilk, and baking soda. Mix until everything is smooth and well blended.  Place it in the freezer for 15 minutes or the fridge for half an hour to thicken.
3) Pat the hot dogs dry with paper towels and roll them in flour or cornstarch so that the batter will stick. Dust off excess. Insert wooden sticks into the ends.
Fill a tall glass with the batter, and dip the hot dogs in the batter one at a time, shaking off the excess. Deep fry a few at a time in the hot oil until they are as brown as you like them. (About 3 minutes)
Drain on paper towels before serving.
I started the batter early in the evening and the whole ordeal took longer than we thought. First, I sifted the cornmeal and flour:

 Adding the baking powder (after the debacle confusing measurements of soda vs powder)

Adding the honey as a sugar substitute- the first extra liquid component.

Adding creamed corn - the second extra liquid component. See how runny it is? That would tip off a more experienced fryer to add more flour. I didn't realize how vital the texture was going to be to ensuring success.

After blending these previous ingredients, I made a well in the center for the milk and eggs. The recipe says to add the baking soda at this time, but I added it already- and too much of it. Whoops.

Look how soupy it turned out. Next time I'll know better and maybe it won't be so bad.

This mixture was set aside for a while, as I mentioned. Now, when we came back to it, this is what happened: We dried off the dogs and skewered them. They need to be bone-dry to hold the batter, or floured. I dipped them in a tall glass of batter:

See the drips? I later made the batter thick and sticky (instead of running off, it stuck to the dog in a thick layer). I added about a cup of flour to the doubled batter after these failed attempts:

Poor bald hot dogs. Marcus said they look like giant croquettes, so Jorge called them "Cornquettes" The batter flew right off them in the oil, as you can see- just a thin layer of burn crumbs, not the fluffy cornbread coating that corn dogs should have.

We tried different methods of making the batter stick better.

We rolled the dogs in flour, we adjusted the heat, we lowered them more slowly. I even added more baking powder, thinking that the leavening agents had gone flat. Then, I just said that before we give up, let me add more flour. By Jove, it worked! They look really burnt at this point. We tried making them golden-brown, but there was raw dough in the middle because they are so fat.

Thus ends my tale of woe. Be ware of the fried foods! Deadly for the body and the soul. On another note, I tried cooking with a slow cooker for the first time and LOVED it. More on that another day. All in all, we had fun doing an activity together. After we were standing there for a couple of hours, we started to get silly. I started laughing hysterically when I said we should try throwing little chunks instead of whole dogs- and Marcus said "Little Chunks is Nathan's Indian name". We had a great time. Next time, we're going to do something much less time consuming, though.

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