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Preparing Food: The Frying Pan

Cuisine Context

Some studies have even shown olive oil may be related to longer life!

Frying, stir-frying, and sautéing are among the quickest and most reliable cooking methods. They are the favorite ways to prepare meals for many people, from pan-fried catfish in the South to clams in New England.

  • Frying usually involves a heavy, flat frying pan, or skillet, and requires a fat of some kind, such as butter or oil. If done right, frying serves the purpose of rapidly heating the food while sealing in the juices.
  • Stir-frying has many definitions. For our purposes, stir-frying refers to cooking with a wok (a large, thin-walled, bowl-shaped metal pan that heats rapidly using a gas flame). This method cooks extremely rapidly, and due to the shape of a wok lends itself extremely well to dishes comprised of small pieces and a sauce or liquid that coats everything (stir-fried pork and vegetables with soy sauce). If you don't have a wok, a skillet or frying pan will also serve.
  • Sautéing is very similar, using a sauté pan or frying pan to cook food. The difference is that the temperature is lower, and that you give the food a bit more time to cook. Vegetables such as onions, for example, are perfect for sautéing. They turn a wonderful caramel color, soften, and gain a sweetness that is the alter ego of the sharp, raw original.

The fat or oil used for frying and sautéing is important for several reasons:

  • Different fats and oils have different cooking temperatures. Butter, for example, burns easily, affecting the flavor. For low to medium temperature frying (many of the frying recipes in this book) olive oil works fine, although for higher temperature frying, canola oil is better (I've recommended canola in those recipes). There are many other oils, but I've limited most recipes to olive and canola because they cover almost everything, and it keeps the oil issue simple.
  • Different fats and oils bring different flavors. Butter brings a wonderful, rich, well, “butter” flavor that is sublime on a wide variety of foods, from seafood (think scallops) to green beans. Olive oil brings a variety of flavors (there are different types of olive oil) ranging from fruity and light to rich and almost nutty. Canola oil is one of the most neutral oils, allowing the flavor of the food to shine through.
  • Different fats and oils have different health issues. While the view on butter varies according to the latest medical journal, the consensus is to limit the intake of saturated fat (the primary fat in butter) to reduce potential health problems. Olive and canola oils are composed primarily of unsaturated fats, which in moderation are considered to actually bring health benefits.

The effect of fats and oils in cooking is to accelerate the cooking process while sealing in juices. One of the potential hazards is that, because food cooks quite rapidly, it can be overcooked, which hurts flavor and texture of the food.

The following is a “hot list” of items that are perfect for frying, stir-frying, and sautéing:

  • Frying. Fish, chicken breasts, hot sandwiches, hamburger, and sausages.
  • Stir-frying. Shellfish, chicken pieces, pork pieces, sweet peppers, fish pieces, broccoli, and mushrooms.
  • Sautéing. Onions, broccoli rabe, sweet peppers, poultry, cooked pasta, and veal.

The potential list is massive; these are just some of my favorites. Many of these are interchangeable, scallops can easily be fried as well as stir-fried, for example.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to 20-Minute Meals © 2003 by CWL Publishing Enterprises, Inc., John Woods, President. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's website or call 1-800-253-6476.


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