Frying may not be the healthiest of cooking methods but, in moderation, it can form a nutritious part of a balanced diet - providing it's done correctly and with the right equipment. Diane Lane reports
No one would argue that frying is the healthiest of cooking methods, and with so much focus on healthy eating, it does face constant criticism. However, most kitchens will have a fryer, and the popularity of chips is undeniable.
"Amongst the reasons for fryers being popular is that they don't take up a big footprint, they cook quickly and they can process a high volume of food whether fresh, chilled or frozen," says Mick Shaddock, director of CESA (Catering Equipment Suppliers Association).
"In the kitchen, they represent a very efficient way to use space. Modern fryers help make it easier to deep fry by delivering consistent temperature control, helping with timing and making it easier to maintain oil quality."
Steve Quinn is managing director of Cucina, a catering company that operates 37 restaurants in UK schools, each with its own fully qualified chef, and he is not adverse to serving fried foods. "Some caterers are happy to stand proudly behind a banner of ‘no fried foods', but we believe that moderation is always the key to a healthy, balanced diet," he says.
"I believe that some fried food - in moderation - can form a nutritious part of a balanced diet. In our case, the government's nutritional guidelines limit schools to two fried foods per week and I think this is a wise approach.
"Our two chosen fried items are fish and chips which we offer on Fridays. When people don't eat enough fish, I feel this is a great way for them to make sure they consume it at least once a week. We also serve our fish and chips with peas - an excellent source of vitamins. Food is only nutritious if it is actually eaten. We give our customers what they like, in this case fish and chips, but we'll always look to make sure it's healthy. We call this ‘stealthy eating'."
A similar stance is taken by Mark Poultney, managing director at Imperial Catering, whose IFS40 fryer has a 105,000 BTU gas output that heats the oil quickly, resulting in less absorption and better tasting food. "There is no doubt about it, fried food is associated with being high in fat and high in calories," he says.
"Think about cooking with food that is naturally nutritious. Apart from sourcing good quality fish, which is high in Omega 3, or organic chicken for protein, why not try deep-frying vegetables, such as sliced eggplant, butternut squash or battered okra as a lighter addition to your menu. Team smaller, lightly battered fish fillets with smaller portions of chips in order to meet demand for ‘light' options."
Neil Roseweir, development chef for Falcon Foodservice Equipment, is also sympathetic to the plight of fried foods. He says: "Frying gets bad press which is not warranted, in my opinion, if frying is carried out properly. Clearly, a knowledge of the rudiments of cookery are advantageous. Oil must always be clean so regular filtering is absolutely essential."
In-built oil filtration comes as standard on Falcon's E421F and E422F twin-pan electric fryers, and Shaddock notes that the feature has been one of the biggest trends in fryers in recent years.
The Frymaster OCF series of fryers, available through Manitowoc, incorporate FootPrint Pro, a built-in filtration system which is claimed to be highly effective.
Simon Frost, regional sales director at Manitowoc, says: "True filtration will see the oil contaminants removed even when they are as small as 10 microns in size," he says.
"Gauze filters alone will only filter the oil to around 100 microns meaning that the Total Polar Material (TPM), the real nasties within the oil, are not removed and as such the life of the oil continues to shorten."
Valentine continues to evolve its fryers to make them not just more eco friendly, but to help caterers fry their foods at an optimum temperature, reducing the amount of oil that the food absorbs and cutting the energy consumption of the fryer during the cooking process. The new Evolution range, which has an optional computer system, has been developed to optimise frying control.
Steve Elliott, national sales manager for Valentine Equipment, explains: "The computer fryers have programmability, cooking the food at an optimum temperature to ensure quality meals time after time."
Indeed, frying temperature is a key element in good frying practice. "The optimum temperature will depend on what is being fried, the considerations being the temperature of the raw food, its thickness and so on," adds Roseweir.
"If the oil is too hot, food will be overcooked on the outside and possibly raw in the centre. If frying is carried out correctly, the food will not be greasy or soggy or high in saturated fats."
It's surprising how often food isn't fried at the correct temperature, says Andy Blakemore, training and menu development chef at Electrolux Professional. "When frying, most chefs will set the temperature at 190°C for all foods whereas in reality, the ‘one size fits all' approach does not get the best results - a drop or rise of 10°C can make all the difference, whether it's fresh or frozen produce."
Electrolux Professional's XP Automatic FryerHP features an optimised indirect heating system that ensures all of the oil is heated throughout the well for optimum frying results, also increasing the life of the oil by approximately 30%.
Correct preparation of the food to be fried is also important. "Oil frying will generally be about 170°C to 180°C which is almost twice the temperature of boiling water," says Roseweir. "There's really only one food that can take this temperature, and that's a potato. Other foods need to be protected and that will usually take the form of one of four coatings: crumbs, for instance with croquettes; batter, as with cod; pastry, as with samosas; and milk/flour, as in the case of whitebait. Provided the oil is clean and at the right temperature, the coating congeals when immersed into the hot oil. The soft crumbs or batter become hard, so forming a barrier that envelopes the food inside.
"In essence, what then happens is that the internal food will steam. What fries is the barrier and not its contents. Be sure to use the correct amount of coating - do not place more than the necessary amount of breadcrumbs etc into the fryer."
Nick McDonald, marketing director at Lincat, which supplies a range of fryers including the high efficiency Opus 700 Vortech fryer OG7115/F, observes that caterers are beginning to adopt healthier frying methods. He says: "The traditional way to cook chips would be to blanch them in the fryer at the relatively low temperature of 160°C before chilling them down and storing them until needed. Then the chips would be fried again at a higher temperature prior to service.
"Now, many chefs are choosing to steam their chips prior to frying. This allows the chips to be fried just once, in hotter oil, which reduces the quantity of oil absorbed by the potato and therefore produces a less fatty chip. In order to prepare chips in this way you need to invest in a powerful fryer, which is capable of achieving the high temperature you need [180°C] when fully loaded."
Oil choice is crucial, says Stephen Walters, technical manager at Servequip Assistance. "Caterers need to stay away from purchasing oil and fats that are saturated - coconut oil, palm oil or containing animal fats. They should be looking to purchase polyunsaturated oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil, or rapeseed oil. Both types are normally mixed oils containing quantities of each so the content label needs checking."
Blakemore is a fan of rapeseed oil. "With health concerns an important consideration for all chefs and the reduction of trans fats in foods becoming more and more imperative, there has been a rise in the use of ‘good' oils like rapeseed. Naturally, rapeseed is a more expensive option but I would advise all chefs to weigh the cost against the growing consumer desire for healthier options.
"Rapeseed oil contains omegas 3, 6 and 9, essential fatty acids known to reduce cholesterol and maintain heart health, joint mobility and brain function. It is also one of the few unblended oils that can be heated to deep-frying temperature without its antioxidants, character, colour and flavour spoiling, making it a real healthy alternative for caterers looking to make their menus healthier."
Research and development is ongoing for manufacturers who are striving to improve the frying process through technological advances for a better end product, in addition to energy efficiency, oil efficiency and maintenance. But the role of the operator should not be underestimated.
As Shaddock says: "Fry with clean oil, at the right temperature, for the right time, and the results are delicious. Get the time or temperature wrong, or use poor quality oil, and results can be disastrous."
Testing oil will determine how many times it can be used. Stephen Walters, of Servequip Assistance, sets out the three ways to do this.
Organoleptic methods Visual examination (darkening, foaming, and smoke/smoke point); feeling (thickening of oil); smelling and tasting (rancid taste). This is the most popular way of testing because it's easy to do, fast, and has no cost, but it is very subjective.
Product changes Either the cooked product starts to darken or its taste and texture changes. This is very bad practice because essentially what the operator is doing is waiting until the quality is so poor that customers start to complain and return the food. This will cost the operator in terms of both wastage (in the form of returned product), and reputation.
Laboratory testing Measuring the amount of free fatty acid, total polar compounds or polymeric triglycerides. This is the most expensive way of testing but with the most accurate results. Oil is used for the correct amount of time, not being thrown away too early or being used when it could cause a health risk. There are two ways of testing. M3 test strips can be purchased - £50 for two months' supply, or a polar compound tester can be purchased (£400) and this can be used for 12 months, after which time it will need calibrating.
Steve Loughton, managing director of Standex Food Service Equipment, which supplies BKI pressure fryers, explains the advantages of frying under pressure.
Frying under pressure is the only frying process that seals in foods' natural juices, keeping product moist and flavoursome. Since less moisture escapes, less cooking oil is absorbed in its place.
By retaining moisture and juices, food shrinks less when pressure fried. With cooking oil sealed out and natural juices, nutrients, and flavours sealed in, there is much less transfer of flavours and odours from product to product. This results in customers getting a tenderer, tastier product for their money and the operator maximising profitability due to minimum shrinkage.
Additionally, the transfer of heat is improved, meaning quicker heat-up and shorter cook times, the cooking temperature can be lower using less energy, oil lasts longer because it breaks down more slowly and because less is absorbed into the food.
"Pressure fryers take less time and less room to cook the same amount of food, giving higher production yields per square foot than conventional fryers.
Case study Devonshire Arms country house hotel
Frying is crucial to the operation at the Devonshire Brasserie and Bar, one of two restaurants at Devonshire Arms Country House hotel situated on the Duke of Devonshire's 30,000 acre Bolton Abbey Estate in the Yorkshire Dales.
By customer demand, chips are a feature of the brasserie menu. "Fryers are very important here," says head chef Dan Field, who has a Garland suite with fryers built in. "We have an older clientele and they like their fish and chips."
The brasserie turns around 200 covers on a busy day and 50% of those will contain a fried element, usually chips. Besides the beer battered haddock with "fat" chips, there's a starter of tempura monkfish tails.
Field is always mindful of minimizing oil absorption and practices good oil management. "We make sure fried food is drained on J Cloths to soak up as much fat as possible," he says. "And it's very important to clean out the fryer when changing the oil. We do it three to four times a week and we don't filter the bits out, we just get rid of it and change over."
Electrolux 0844 375 3444
Falcon Foodservice Equipment 01786 455200
Imperial 01509 260150
Lincat 01522 875500
Manitowoc 01483 464900
Servequip Assistance 020 8686 8855
Standex Food Service Equipment 0870 990 4242
Valentine 0118 957 1344