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Frying: what it is, how it is done and what mistakes to avoid

We all think we know how to fry, but we ignore a lot of useful information that can make our fried food truly irresistible

Fritto (misto) all’italiana, a dish that has made the history of our cuisine. Found everywhere, in homes, in restaurants, among canteen specials and aperitif snacks. With all its voluptuous regional variations. But always capable of uniting Italy, to the chant of “long live the fried!”. 

There is one thing, though. Fried food needs to be done properly, because if there is one absolute truth that an Italian learns quickly, it is this: it doesn’t matter what you fry, the important thing is how. 

Once again, it’s all about technique… or techniques.

Italian style frying, as it should be in such a creative territory as ours, knows many versions, all valid, all worth trying.

In Italy you can fry everything, from North to South, via the Centre, nothing evades the test of boiling oil: vegetables, meat, fish, shellfish, tubers, fruit, cream, but also bread and pizza. Everything, absolutely everything, tastes better when breaded and fried.

Yes, the breading. This is what differentiates the frying habits of Italians: with eggs or without, with water, with flour alone or with semolina, with milk or without anything, straight in oil. 

The batter

Soft and crispy at the same time, the batter used for frying cannot be separated from using water and flour. Every Italian household has a different version: some use sparkling water, some say it is better to add a small amount of beer, some use milk and some add egg to give flavour and colour. There are also versions with lemon juice and with white wine, as well as gluten-free variants, which can be made using chickpea flour instead of the classic one (speaking of chickpeas, try frying some gluten-free panelle, the Sicilian fritters, by following our recipe).

Every batter is good, but if – and only if – it stays crispy: better then not to add salt to the batter, to prevent the food from releasing moisture, ruining the final effect. In fact, it is always better to add salt later, at the end of cooking once the food has been drained from the oil.

In case you are totally inexperienced, you are not alone: here is a mini frying tutorial for dummies to guide you.

Milan-style breading

And if it has become famous, crossing national borders, there must be a reason. This breading is delicious, crispy like no other, a pleasure to bite into.

It originated for the cotoletta (cutlet) but can be used for anything: all you need is flour, breadcrumbs and egg. The cutlet or chosen ingredient is alternately dipped, on all sides, first in flour, then in egg and finally in breadcrumbs, to create a crust that will then become crispy when it reaches the frying pan. For a vegetarian variant avoiding meat, try the delicious Milan-style porcini mushrooms following the recipe of our chef Maurizio Bosotti.

The variants for breadcrumbs are also endless: instead of breadcrumbs, some use dried fruit, or cereals or even puffed rice. To all these ingredients you can add dried and chopped herbs or other flavourings to taste.

Tips

  • The secret to making a Milan-style cutlet with the right thickness and crunchiness is to roll it twice in egg and breadcrumbs, after the first flouring.
  • The eggs must be beaten, so they mix well and create the right cream in which to dip the cutlet, meatball, fish, or vegetables.
  • When frying meat, use veal chops (with the bone!) strictly, as they are more tender.
  • And if you want it to be really ‘Milan style’, dip it in clarified butter (not oil) as soon as it reaches a temperature of 160°C (325°F).

Fearless flouring

There are some raw materials that are best enjoyed as natural as possible and that, when fried, are perfect when freshly floured. This applies especially to fish and shellfish.

Any flour will do for flouring and frying. The most used  – also because they are more widespread and always available in the pantry  – are type 0 and 00 (zero and zero-zero) flours, white flours obtained from soft wheat. But semolina flour, coarser, obtained by grinding durum wheat, is also good, as it would guarantee crispier fried foods.

On the market nowadays, you can find flour mixes designed to make our lives easier and make our fried dishes drier, crispier, more fragrant, more colourful, or whiter… in short, more! 

And if you do not wish to rely on modern preparations, there are plenty of alternatives: rice flour, maize flour, chickpea flour, to name but a few. Also, remember that all flours can be wholemeal.

Which oil to use for frying

Sunflower oil (preferably high oleic), peanut oil and extra virgin olive oil are the healthiest, while soya oil and corn oil are to be avoided for frying, as they are rich in polyunsaturated fats and therefore harmful to our health if used at very high temperatures, as is required for frying. For butter, the only one allowed is clarified butter.

When frying, the right temperature is paramount: once the optimum temperature has been reached, it must not drop. In fact, to achieve an even fry, the temperature of the liquid must stay constant and, since the food needs to be well immersed to cook evenly, it is best to cook only a few at a time (in general, the proportion of 100 g per 100 ml applies).

Lastly, never let any oil reach its smoke point, that is the point at which the oil starts to burn and therefore become harmful to health. To avoid this problem, simply get a digital food thermometer.
 And follow the directions in the recipes carefully, of course!

Gnocco fritto
Apple Fritters
Porcini Mushrooms ‘alla milanese’ (in the Milanese style)
Artichokes alla giudia
Fried artichokes in batter
“Mondeghili” Milan-style meatballs
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