Monsters of the deep fryer

There’s a special place in hell for whoever invented deep frying.

Not that I can’t see its utility. Here’s a cooking technique that renders just about anything not only edible but delicious, which is a real boon in time of scarcity. If you’re stranded on a dessert island with nothing to eat but tubers and shoe leather, all you have to do is fire up the deep fryer and you’re good to go. It’s the only thing on this earth that will turn tree bark into dinner.

It’s also the thing on this earth that will make tree bark bad for you. The only problem with the deep fryer is that the things that come out of it are A) absolutely irresistible and B) woefully unhealthful. That’s a dangerous combination.

It’s so dangerous that, for the first 47 years of my life, I refused to deep fry anything at all. Which is not to say that I refused to eat anything deep-fried. I’m particularly fond of fried shrimp, and I’ve downed my share of French fries – it’s just that I thought it was safer to keep that kind of thing out of the house.

But then we met Les Hemmila. Les runs Barnstable Seafarms, and grows beautiful oysters on grants in Barnstable Harbor and West Bay, off Osterville. If you farm oysters, you aim to grow them until they’re three inches long, which is the minimum legal size and also the size people want in a raw oyster. Inevitably, though, some get away. They get sloshed out of their trays and go rogue, and if they escape harvest for a season or two, they turn into big, hairy monsters that nobody wants.

Except me. Kevin sometimes helps Les out on the grant, and I occasionally come along. We were out there a couple days ago, and I marveled at the size of some of Les’s escapees.

“What do you do with these?” I asked him.

“Nothing,” he said. “If you want ‘em, you’re welcome to ‘em.”

I wanted ‘em. I collected a dozen, and took ‘em home.

There are several things you can do with oversized oysters. There’s nothing to stop you from eating them raw, of course, but they’re better suited for other applications. One of which is deep frying.

It was a just a couple months back that we deep fried some oysters with our friends Doug and Dianne Langelend – inveterate eaters, accomplished cooks, and publishers of Edible Cape Cod. We shucked the oysters and breaded them (flour, then egg, then panko), and Doug set up an outdoor propane burner with an enameled cast-iron Le Creuset pot full of vegetable oil.

When Kevin saw the set-up, his eyes lit up. We have an outdoor propane burner! We have an enameled cast-iron pot! (Ours is a mere Lodge, not a Le Creuset, but the principle’s the same.) All we need is vegetable oil, and deep frying is within our grasp.

“I know what you’re thinking,” I said to my husband, and I almost added something along the lines of “and you can forget about it,” but I stopped to consider.

Kevin and I each have three marital vetoes. That is, we can each put our foot down and put the kibosh on something the other wants to do a total of three times over the course of our married life. I have exercised one, and Kevin has resigned himself to motorcyclelessness. Kevin has exercised none. This could be because he’s more easy-going and live-and-let-live than I am, or it could be because I don’t ever want to do anything that has to be vetoed.

Regardless, I have two vetoes left. As I stood on the Langelands’ patio, watching the wheels turn in my husband’s head, I decided I wasn’t going to waste one on deep frying.

And so, yesterday, I broke my 47-year streak and deep fried at home.

Kevin set up the burner, and put about a half-gallon of canola oil in our cast-iron pot. We shucked the oysters (no mean feat) and drained them. And then we called my parents.

My parents love to eat, but they are also very careful about what they eat. The meals they have at home are invariably heavy on vegetables, legumes, and whole grains and light on meat and fat. They’re also very good – my mother is an excellent cook.

Although I tend to make reasonably healthful meals most of the time, it’s usually when we do something a little out of the ordinary that we invite my parents over. And “out of the ordinary” generally translates to “bad for you.”

I called my mother. “Hey, Mom, it’s me. We’re having crack for dinner. Wanna come over?”

“Sure! We’ll bring the wine.”

They arrived, with wine, and Kevin fired up the propane burner. We breaded the oysters (flour, egg, panko), and I made an aioli out of mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice, and Tabasco.

When the oil was hot, we dropped in the first four oysters. They cooked in about fifteen seconds, and Kevin scooped them out and drained them on paper towels.

We each took one, and dipped it in the aioli.

There is nothing like a fried oyster. The outside is crispy and crunchy, the inside soft and creamy. It has the faintest brininess. It’s like deep-fried ocean.

There is no going back. We have crossed our deep-fried Rubicon, and are now thinking about chicken, shrimp, and even Snickers bars. Kevin pointed to the potato patch, one of our few gardening endeavors that seems to be succeeding, and said to me. “You see those? Those are French fries.”

I’m eyeing the tree bark.

23 people are having a conversation about “Monsters of the deep fryer

  1. Lower right corner of my blog’s header collage. Patatas bravas. Cut up potatoes tossed with salt, pepper, and Spanish-y spices. Drain in a colander for ~20 minutes. Deep fry in olive oil. The Spanish will then sometimes toss the hot potatoes in a spiced mayonnaise. You can also serve the mayo on the side, or skip it altogether. But if you’re already that far gone to the devil, why hold back?

  2. Oh wow that sounds good, especially the aioli part. I never thought of putting Tabasco in it, but why the hell not?

    I hope to get an outdoor propane burner for canning out of doors since canning makes the house too hot at precisely the wrong time of year, but having another excuse for one like deep frying makes it easier to justify. I also want an enameled cast iron pan, just on general principles, and now I have another excuse for that too.

    Bless you Tamar Haspel.

  3. On a semi-regular basis – when he thinks my resistance is down – my husband casually suggests we get a deep fat fryer. In an English kitchen the deep fat fryer is as ubiquitious as the electric kettle and toaster. You can pick them up at the grocery store. I’ve effectively exercised that veto so far.

    I’m not against them — it’s just that I lack self-control. There is nothing I wouldn’t deep fry if given half the chance. And 24/7 access to a counter top fryer. As an outdoor treat, with friends and family, it sounds like the perfect occasion. The oysters sound fantastic.

    I’ve heard of a new trend to batter a slice of pizza and deep fry it…I’m just saying….

  4. What a great post!! Except now these carrots I was so healthily munching taste like SAWDUST in my mouth. What I wouldn’t give for a deep-fried oyster…

  5. Kate — I should have thought, before I posted, that I was just ASKING people to share their favorite deep-fried recipes. That was not such a hot idea. Those potatoes, though! As soon as we harvest a few …

    Paula — I’ll vouch for the utility of the outdoor burner. Not only is it great for those high-heat applications that you just have to do in the dog days of August, it’s also excellent for smelly stuff and for live lobsters. They’re not even expensive — we got ours at a yard sale for just a few dollars. (That Le Creuset pot though, will set you back a few clams …)

    Jen — Oh, so you spend a whole comment telling me how you don’t have the means to deep fry, and then you just throw that pizza thing in there. Knowing, as you do, that we DO have the means to deep fry and that my husband DOES read your comments. If I didn’t know you better, I’d swear you did it on purpose.

    Jocelyn — Yes! That’s one of the problems with deep frying that I didn’t mention. After you deep fry, everything else tastes that much worse. But if you go read how deep-fried food clogs your arteries and packs on pounds, the carrots will taste good again.

  6. Yum! Since you have gone to the dark side, will you give fried butter a try? I hear it’s the rage at the county fairs. I have yet to see it turn up on the PBR circuit. Deep fried turkeys – not yours, of course – are delicious. While talking turkey, last Thanksgiving a friend came down from Colorado and threw a turkey on the grill. He covered the carcass in bacon; which self-basted the turkey and turned a beautiful golden brown. The cooked bacon was removed and served as an hors d oeuvre.

  7. I did once succumb to a deep fat fryer … it took up space in my kitchen cupboard for many years and any time we did use it we decided that it really wasn’t worth the cupboard space. Probably because the kitchen always smelt awful afterwards … now, an outside deep frying solution sounds much more practical.

    I think I deliberately lost the fryer last time we moved two years ago – not that it would work on this side of the pond anyway. I’m already very good at destroying transformers, so maybe I shouldn’t look through those ten still-to-be-unpacked boxes currently residing in our basement. I kid myself that I’m saving myself effort when we next move by not unpacking them .. but I should maybe see if I can’t just have a garage sale instead!

  8. Don’t forget to try onion rings and zucchini, maybe possible even some types of cheese? (Roquefort chunks come to mind, as an appetizer). I admire your “three vetoes” idea, wow!

  9. For Christmas 2008, Peter asked what I wanted for a gift, because he was stumped what to get me. I said I always wanted one of those counter-top deep fat fryers. So there it was under the tree. Woohoo. By the third time I used it (sweet potato fries I think) he questioned “why the hell didn’t you ask for this a long time ago?” The deal was sealed. Golden Brown and Delicious (GBD) is just an on-switch away. My latest idea is frying something in duck fat. I better go walk a couple a miles just for thinking of it…

  10. Jill — Fried butter won’t be on the menu, but it’s quite likely that one of our turkeys will end up bubbling in fat. I’ve known lots of people who have done it with excellent results.

    Tovar — Ha! Funny, and even true.

    Fiona — Deep frying in the house definitely has its disadvantages, and if you add a blown transformer to the list, I can see why you’d want to ditch the deep fryer. All it took was one experience to make me a proponent of outdoor deep frying.

    Dina — Onion rings. Did you REALLY have to say onion rings? God I love onion rings. (And the three vetoes idea was Kevin’s — I like it because it makes you think really hard before you put your foot down.)

    Rick — So you got sucked in two years ago, eh? And never looked back, I see. But I cannot — I repeat, CANNOT — get hooked on GBD. So don’t you go leaving ideas like duck fat on my blog. (Actually, Kevin’s been talking about French fries in duck fat for years … it’s just that used to be safe.)

    • Be strong Tamar. Go Kevin! My idea was a scotch egg, made with duck egg and duck sausage, all fried in duck fat. Decadent I bet. Be strong Tamar.

  11. Oh, so bad, Tamar- once again you’ve forced my thoughts to turn to deep-fryinhg – yum! Clam fritters are my downfall. Funny that one of my other favorite bloggers, Jane, of Little Compton Morninhgs, just addressed this very thing (deep-frying) yesterday. In fact I could have sworn after reading the first few paragraph of hers that you were the author!

    Now, I’ll have to try deep-fried oysters – “it’s like deep-fried ocean.” What temptation…..

  12. And the whole village sent up a chorus of “amen” at the sound of “Deep fried oysters.” I have an outdoor propane burner I’ve used for many things over many years, but never as a deep fryer for an oyster. Once, for a turkey, I filled the pot with oil. Usually, I use it to boil water for corn on the cob next to the grill, or to blanch a lot of chicken or ribs to be grilled for the finish. This deep frying thing, like strawberries and eggs and pasta and … is just too much temptation to me. I work at moderation, but some things don’t take kindly to that.

    Forget fried butter, but batter dipped and fried pizza has real possibilities. Try fried ice cream sometime, it is really good, too.

  13. Judy — Well, if I’m going to deep fry, so should everyone else. It’s like the Aesop story of the fox and his brush.

    Greg — I’ve heard about fried ice cream, and I think it has more appeal than fried pizza. But you never know until you try it. All of it, of course, is the enemy of moderation.

    Dave — So we have a purist on our hands, do we? For the record, I only cook oysters after I’ve had my fill of the raw ones.

  14. Oh boy. You’ve not even mentioned FRIED CHICKEN.

    You are controlling the type of oil, the cleanliness and the temperature. In my book, that, coupled with the healthful eating and lifestyle most other days, gives you a pass. Complete and total absolution. (Okay, close enough, anyway)

    Now about my visit down Cape…

    (PS LOVE the redesign, even though I loved the last one, too.)

  15. like you, I’ve never felt compelled to deep fry, and I’m not a big fan of deep fried stuff anyways. but my father acquired one last year, more to complete his “as seen on tv” cooking set than to actually fry.

    last weekend, with many people coming over for a party and mom suggesting something “spicy” I suggested jalapeno poppers- a food we’re highly familiar with in Phoenix. It didn’t even occur to me to just buy the suckers, some 3$ for a box of them. I researched the recipe, bought about 20 jalapenos and cream cheese and set to work.

    I’m annoyed to report that jalapeno poppers are the lowest net gain recipe EVER. First, you have to halve the peppers and clean them. The oil was so unexpectedly strong that I smoked all three of us out of the kitchen, we were all coughing so hard. It took hours to clear. Then, you pack each half with cream cheese, put them back together and clean them up- a highly messy affair, then bread them, twice, finally freezing them and then deep frying them, frozen.

    All in all, I figure 3 hours of work for 20, mid par poppers. Though popular with the crowd, as I contemplated the 3$ I could have spent and the 3 hours I could have saved…

  16. You’re lucky that your cold waters have tasty oysters. Down here it’s already too hot to really eat them. They get milky and don’t seem to taste right when it gets hot. I know what you mean about the fried ones though. Was lucky enough, a long time ago, to get a fried oyster po-boy during Pony Swim up in Chincoteague, and it was beyond delicious. Pure oyster with some light breading. Yum. I’m with you though, I like my oysters big and hairy. LOL And raw. But you’re right about the standard sizes being smaller though. I buy them by the box at a local fish market, and very rarely will there be a sizeable one thrown in among the standards.

  17. Up on the Northern California coast, they take those big honkin’ oysters and BBQ them, they are *almost* as delicious as the deep fried ones.

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