Thursday, June 9, 2016

Week 23 - Deep Frying

Even though I'm doing the 52 week cooking challenge just for myself (and not for points on Reddit), I really hate skipping a week and breaking my streak. I've only skipped a week once - molecular week during the first year I did the challenge (the reasoning explained here) - but I doubled up some other challenge weeks to "make up for it." The Week 23 theme this year was deep frying, which I just don't do at home. I don't cook much (if any) red meat at home, and I don't deep fry. Those are basically the only "rules" I have, which keep our home cooking a little bit healthier, but it also means I don't have to deal with my issues with deep frying (wasted oil, possible burns since I'm a giant klutz, the fear of burning the kitchen down). I didn't want to skip the week altogether though, so I figured I would just pan fry something. I ended up doing shallow frying for the first time, and since the challenge is all about stretching your boundaries and trying something new, I think this should count as much as deep frying for me since the effect on me is pretty much the same.

Chicken not pictured because it had been thawing in the sink

Just like Week 22, I ended up finding a good recipe for this challenge from the Everyday Harumi cookbook. This time it was for fried chicken with a leek sauce. The original recipe called for deep frying the chicken, but I planned to modify the recipe to pan fry it. The ingredients for the fried chicken dish (as adapted) were:

for the chicken:
- 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts ($4.50)
- 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce ($0.05)
- 1 tbsp sake ($0.10)
- potato starch to coat chicken (about 6 spoonfuls) ($0.40)
- canola oil for frying (a few tbsp) ($0.30)

for the leek sauce:
- about 1 cup of leeks, finely chopped ($0.70)
- 1 red chili pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped ($0.28)
- 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce ($0.20)
- 1 tbsp sake ($0.10)
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar ($0.10)
- 1.5 tbsp sugar ($0.10)
- 1 tbsp canola oil ($0.10)

The total for the fried chicken was approximately $6.93. We ate it alongside some brown rice and a cucumber salad, which probably added another $3, making the grand total just under $10. Not bad at all.

It was really easy to make the leek sauce. First up was prep - finely chopping the leeks and the chili pepper, and combining the soy sauce, sake, rice vinegar, and sugar in a separate bowl.

To make the sauce, I added the canola oil to a small saucepan, and then sauteed the leeks and chili pepper until soft. After that, I added the sauce bowl ingredients to the pan, stirring frequently to help the sugar dissolve. I started the sauteing right before I started frying the chicken, and cooked it all on low so it wouldn't be done too quickly. I ended up removing it from the heat only a few minutes before the chicken was done.

The prep for the chicken was a little more complex, but still not difficult. After slicing the chicken breasts into smaller, thinner pieces, I added the soy sauce and sake to a bowl and let the chicken marinate for about 10 minutes. After that, I set up a bowl with potato starch to coat the chicken. I was pretty excited because dredging the chicken in the potato starch was probably the best I had ever done at breading something, and I was really proud of that. Unfortunately, I then piled the chicken (coated in potato starch) in a bowl with pieces on top of one another, and let it sit that way for a few minutes while I set up the stove. That meant that when I picked up the chicken to drop it into the oil to fry it, quite a few of them came out missing one side of their potato starch coating. Oops. Lesson learned.

For the frying itself, I added a few tbsp of canola oil to the wok, probably half an inch or less. I was planning to pan fry the chicken, but after I added the first batch (of 2) to the wok, the chicken displaced so much oil that it looked like I was going to end up shallow frying instead. That still worked for the challenge, but I was a little uneasy about it because of the prospect of all of the bubbling hot oil. Sure enough, the oil was boiling loudly at some point, but since the original plan was pan frying, it never occurred to me that I should wait for it to do that before dropping the chicken in. As a result, the first batch of chicken came out missing even more of the potato starch breading since it stuck to the pan.

The second batch, since the oil was already hot enough, came out much better, much more golden brown, much crisper, and with much more of the breading intact. Lesson learned, even if I don't particularly want to do that again. For each batch, I flipped the chicken over partway through (which was a challenge when the breading was stuck to the wok). I don't know exactly how many minutes in that was though, since I did it entirely by sight and guessing. Once the chicken was fried, I removed the pieces with a slotted spoon and let them rest on paper towels to soak up some of the oil. We topped the fried chicken with the leek sauce when it was time to eat.

This challenge meal confirmed for me that frying at home is really not for me, and I should avoid or adapt recipes that require it. I don't think this was so much of a self-fulfilling prophecy as being pretty certain about the reasons I wouldn't enjoy it because I know myself when it comes to some things. The chicken itself turned out okay, even if the second batch was much better than the first, and the leek sauce was really tasty and a good complement for the flavor of the chicken. That said, if I made this again, I think I'd rather just saute and/or bake the chicken and use the sauce. I didn't really enjoy shallow frying that much, and I still have no desire to deep fry at home. I appreciate the challenge for making me try doing this, but honestly, I'm just glad this challenge week is over and hopefully will not return anytime soon.

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