There’s nothing like the taste of deep-fried foods. You can deep fry just about anything, from chicken to pickles or ice cream. However, to stay healthy, your deep-fried favorites should be enjoyed in moderation.
Here are some alternatives to deep frying that your whole family will enjoy:
The same foods you deep fry can also be grilled. Grilling is a method of cooking food quickly with intense, dry, direct heat, and with very little added fat. Usually the heat source is below, although it can also be from above (e.g. broiling).
Outdoor grilling is done over an open flame, while indoor grilling is done on the following:
- Ridged grill pans (especially cast-iron)
- Stoves containing built-in grills
- Electric countertop grills (two types)
- Open, which is basically a griddle with ridges
- Contact (sandwich press)
Temperatures for grilling usually range from 375-450°F, and for broiling 500-550°F.
When meat, fish, and poultry are grilled, they form a crispy crust due to the “Maillard reaction”, a process in which amino acids react with sugars to produce browning and hundreds of aroma and flavor compounds. Vegetables also undergo this reaction, but with their lower protein content their flavor development is limited.
Vegetables cooked at the higher grilling temperatures also undergo caramelization, which is the oxidation of sugar resulting in browning and a caramel flavoring. Some caramelization takes place as well in meat because it contains the simple sugar ribose. Those vegetables with high sugar and protein levels such as corn, sweet potatoes, onions and eggplant produce tasty flavors from both types of browning reactions.
Indoor grilling generally can’t replicate the flavored reactions achieved outdoors, although broiling is the next best thing, producing caramelization and a Maillard crust. Grill pans also come very close if you preheat them long enough. Contact grills usually end up steaming the food instead of grilling it, and open grills don’t have the temperature control to produce the same results with meat.
Grilling produces smoke. To reduce the amount indoors, pat your meat very dry after marinating, making sure there are no food bits left on the surface that can fall between the grill ridges and burn to a crisp. When using rubs, coat the meat with a few drops of oil first, and use only dry powder rubs that will then stick to it. As well, lubricate only the ridges of the grill, using oil that has a high smoke point (e.g. avocado, ghee).
Even if you can’t duplicate the same flavors in meat of outdoor grilling, seasonings can make up for some of them. For example, liquid smoke contains the flavor compounds from actual smoke, and adding it to the marinade will give your meat a smoky taste. Dried chipotle and smoked paprika as part of a spice rub will do the same thing. You may want to add them as a garnish after grilling to reduce the risk of too much smoke when cooking.
Roasting is a dry-heat cooking method, where hot air from an oven, open flame, or other heat source completely surrounds the food and cooks it evenly on all sides. Both the Maillard reaction and caramelization occur during roasting, browning the food and providing rich, concentrated flavors.
This method is particularly ideal for larger cuts of meat like rib roasts, leg of lamb, beef tenderloin, and pork loin. Smaller cuts of meat, fish, and chicken are prone to drying out. It’s better to sear them in a pan first, then finish cooking with a short roast time in the oven. Marinating beforehand will also help retain moisture, as well as tenderize tougher cuts.
When roasting a whole chicken or turkey, sometimes the breast meat becomes dry because the dark meat takes longer to cook. One solution is to turn the bird breast-side down for the first 30-45 minutes. Another is to place aluminum foil over the breasts about halfway through cooking and basting them with the cooking juices to keep them moist and add flavor.
Roasting also makes vegetables taste incredible, especially the denser ones such as potatoes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and all root vegetables. Brush them with butter or avocado oil, season them with herbs and spices, and occasionally turn them to keep the cooking even. Most vegetables can be roasted at 400°F or 425°F.
Roasting can be done in a variety of cookware:
- Open pans with U- or V-shaped racks
- Dutch ovens
- Oval roasting pans with lids
- Shallow sheet pans with or without grills
- Cast iron skillets
- Heavy-duty rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment or foil
Whether or not to use a lid is a matter of some debate. Many cooks insist a lid should never be used in roasting because even though it speeds up cooking time the meat is steamed instead of being roasted. Advocates of lid use maintain that when cooking a dry meat such as turkey, a lid traps moisture that condenses on the top and drips down, acting like a baster. They also contend that a lid helps the food cook more evenly by reflecting heat back onto the food.
Here is a chart to help you choose the right temperature for your meat and poultry. For whole fish, fish steaks, and thicker fish fillets, the standard roasting temperature is 350°F. If you want a crust on the fish, cook at a higher temperature for a shorter time.
Braising is a moist-heat cooking method where food is partially submerged in liquid and cooked in a covered dish at a very low heat for a long time (full submersion with smaller uniform pieces of meat is called stewing). It’s an excellent way to cook larger, tougher cuts of meat such as ribs, shanks, legs, shoulder, and chuck or round roasts because it breaks down the connective tissue and muscle fibers to make them completely tender. You can also braise carrots, potatoes, and other hard root vegetables as well as hearty green vegetables such as brussels sprouts and kale, on their own or with meat.
Different cookware with tight-fitting lids can be used for braising:
- Dutch ovens
- Deep-sided sauté pans
- Plain soup pots
- Slow cookers
Braising can be done on the stovetop at a low simmer or in the oven at 300-325ºF. The meat should be cooked until tender and can be pulled apart with a fork, which can take 1-3 hours or longer. Vegetable braises are done as soon as the vegetables are as tender as you want them.
Here are some braising basics:
- Preheat the oil and sear the meat first so it caramelizes. Remove it from the cookware.
- Add a bit more oil and cook the base vegetables — usually finely chopped onion, carrot, and celery — until softened. Add any herbs and spices. Cook for about 30 seconds.
- Deglaze the pan with the base vegetables still there, using wine, stock, or water, and remove all the stuck bits from the bottom.
- Add the braising liquid — water, or stock. For more flavor, add wine, beer, cider, or alcohol to the liquid. Add the meat back.
- Cover tightly and simmer on the stove or move to the oven if the pan is oven safe.
- Add vegetables toward the end of cooking time if you want them to hold their shape.
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