We’re commanded to eat doughnuts during the festival of lights. This year, we’re going to make the doughnuts ourselves.
You only think that you don’t want to fry at home.
Really. You only think that frying at home is too messy, a little dangerous, and totally impractical.
Frying—especially deep-frying—takes so much oil, you think. Who has that much oil lying around? And you not only think, but shudder to think, about how to dispose of that oil once the frying is done.
Those are your thoughts. Now let’s talk about your feelings.
The feeling of a just-fried fritter between your teeth: ethereal and crisp and better than anything that comes from a bag. The feeling you get when you eat a warm doughnut: happiness spreading throughout your body.
Hanukkah is approaching, and so are the New Year’s Eve parties. Frying at home is required for the former, and advisable for the latter. It’s time to ignore your thoughts and embrace your feelings. In other words, it’s time to fry at home.
Set Yourself Up
Sam Yoo is the owner and chef of Golden Diner, a modern diner in New York City’s Chinatown. There, he fries the crunchiest bricks of hash browns for his on-the-way-to-famous egg sandwiches. His advice for home cooks: “The most important thing with frying is having the correct set-up.”
That set-up starts with the pot. You want something thick and heavy, with relatively tall sides. That means a high-sided pan (like this sauté pan) if you’re shallow-frying, and a 6- or 8-quart Dutch oven if you’re deep-frying.
You’ll also need a thermometer. Normally we recommend a Thermapen for temperature-taking, but when it comes to deep-frying, Yoo thinks a classic analogue candy thermometer is better. Whatever type of thermometer you use for deep-frying, make sure it easily clips to the side of the pot. That way, you’ll be able to monitor the temperature of the oil at all times—something, as you’ll read below, you really want to be able to do.
When deep-frying, you’ll want a spider to retrieve your doughnuts and croquettes from the oil. A slotted metal spoon will work, too. (But a spider, with its wide surface area and large holes for oil to drip through, is better.)
Shallow-frying? You know we love a fish spatula.
Finally, you’ll need to set up a draining station. That can be a sheet pan with a rack set into it, or a plate layered with a couple of paper towels.
Oh, and you’ll need oil, a bottle or two of neutral oil with a high smoke point. Canola works well here, and so does grapeseed, though the latter is pretty expensive.
Deep-Frying the Doughnuts
Let’s pretend you’re deep-frying sufganiyot, the traditional jelly doughnuts of Hanukkah. That’s right: you’re going the extra mile beyond latkes. Take that, bubbe!
The first thing you’ll do is fill your pot with oil. But you want to fill it with less oil than you think. “Never fill your pot more than halfway with oil,” Yoo says. Oil expands as it heats, so a half-filled pot will become significantly more full once the heat is on.
If you’re using this recipe, you’ll know that you need to heat your oil to 350 degrees. That, of course, is why you have a candy thermometer clipped to the pot.
Oil at 350℉? Great. Now, using your spider, gently lower a doughnut into the oil and watch as the oil dances all around it and…immediately drops below 350℉.
Well, of course that’s going to happen. You just entered a room-temperature doughnut into the equation! The question every deep-fryer asks at this point is what to do about it.
Do you raise the heat to get the oil temperature back up? You could, but Yoo doesn’t recommend it. “All that fidgeting, especially for a home cook newer to frying, can cause anxiety and inconsistencies.”
So should you just let the doughnut fry at the lower temperature? That’s not such a terrible idea—the oil probably only dropped twenty degrees or so, and it will eventually come back up.
But the best option may be one the pros use: start your oil a little higher than the recipe calls for. “If you’re going to put four doughnuts in, I would start the oil at 375℉,” Yoo says. The oil will get cooler once the doughnuts are in, but it will end up pretty close to where the recipe wants you to be.
How to Fry the Perfect Latke
While those doughnuts hang out in the oil, let’s take a quick detour to talk latkes. You can deep-fry latkes, but most recipes call for shallow-frying them in a skillet. One recipe I love instructs to “heat ¼ cup oil in a 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking.”
Simple! But not exactly precise. The temperature of the oil is so important when frying—too low and things get greasy, too hot and things don’t cook through—so I asked Yoo if he could get nerdy with me. If I were to take my thermometer to the oil when I’m shallow-frying, what temperature should I be looking for?
“I would suggest 375,” he answered. It’s harder to retain heat when shallow-frying, he noted, because you have less oil in the pan. A temperature of 375℉ ensures the oil will be hot enough to get your latkes crisp.
If the oil’s hot enough, latkes are pretty straightforward: cook until undersides are golden, then turn them and cook the other side. Transfer the finished latkes to a 200-degree oven, setting them in a single layer on a rack set in a sheet pan, to stay crisp (more details this stage of the frying process are below). Then start on the next batch.
If you have problems, they’ll probably start here. Latkes are delicate things, and when you turn them, little bits of potato are likely to break off. Those potato remnants are hard to remove from the pan, so they stay there. And they keep cooking, and keep cooking, until they’re just tiny crumbs of pure carbon that are releasing smoke into the air and bad flavors into your oil.
How do you prevent that? Yoo told me that, sadly, you just can’t.
“After your second or third batch, I would suggest taking that oil and passing it through a chinois or some sort of colander, to catch the residual potato,” he said. “Clean out the pan with a dry paper towel, put the strained oil back in, and start all over.”
I understand that that’s not what any of us want to hear. But you know what’s worse to hear? The smoke alarm going off.
Finishing the Fry
Whether you’re deep-frying or shallow-frying, there are a few things to know about the finish.
When you’re finished frying, you really want to finish frying. Hot oil is no longer your friend, but your enemy—any residual oil that stays on your food will just make it greasy.
So follow the two-step process of the shake-and-strain.
First, the shake: when you lift your doughnut or latke from the oil, give it a light shake in the spider to get it as dry as possible. (Don’t go overboard here—you don’t want hot oil flying around your kitchen, especially if there’s a live flame under your pot.)
Next, the strain: place the food on that rack you already set out, or on those paper towels. Either will allow your food to drain any unnecessary oil, staying light and crispy instead of damp and greasy.
Now break out the salt. “You should immediately salt fried foods,” Yoo says. “Fried food will absorb salt the best when it’s hot.”
Your perfectly-salted, expertly-fried food is ready to eat now, and now really is the key. Hanukkah lasts for eight days and nights, but latkes and doughnuts? They’re perfect for only minutes.