Many culinary terms are used with little regard for what they actually mean. People say "sauté" when they mean "pan-fry" or "bake" when they mean "roast." And when it comes to fried food, there's a big difference between the terms deep fry and flash fry, although most people are unaware of how the techniques differ.
Believe it or not, flash frying is healthier than deep-frying. Deep-fried foods are fully submerged in oil for five to 15 minutes, allowing the oil to seep in and saturate the food with fat. Flash fried food is submerged for about one to five minutes in oil so hot that the outside of the food is immediately seared, keeping the oil from penetrating farther. And because the extremely hot oil first sears the food, it not only keeps the oil out but also holds the flavor in.
Flash frying isn't difficult, but it carries with it a certain amount of risk and shouldn't be done without first learning the proper technique.
When flash frying, oil must be heated to an extremely high temperature, 400°F, and then held there during cooking. Most oils, such as vegetable shortening and olive oil, start to smoke at around 350°F, some at even lower temperatures. Flash points - points at which the oil will ignite - are at much higher temperatures, and fire is a danger if you're not careful. The best oils to use at high temperatures are grapeseed, avocado and almond. These can be expensive but are easily saved and reused.
It's also important to be careful when introducing liquid to hot oil. Foods naturally contain moisture, and those higher in moisture can cause the oil to splatter. Make sure to dry the surface of foods you plan to fry. Splattering will happen regardless of what is being fried, so work in small batches in a pan with high sides filled no more than halfway. If the pan is too full, it could bubble over, potentially igniting a kitchen fire or causing burns to the cook.
Flash frying will become a go-to technique again once you get the hang of it. Foods cooked this way emerge from the oil with a crisp exterior and a tender interior full of irresistible flavor.
James Beard award-nominated chef Cassandra Vires received her culinary training in Houston, Texas, and has a knack for reimagining classic dishes.
Flash Fried Shishito Peppers with Saffron Aïoli
These delicately flavored peppers are perfect for flash frying because of their thin skins and mild heat. Their beautiful green color is amplified when they are cooked correctly. As with most Japanese peppers, the mild heat contributes to balanced flavor instead of mouth-blistering spice.
Serves | 6 |
- 1 pinch saffron threads
- 2 tsp hot water
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 pinch cayenne
- 1 cup olive oil
Flash Fried Peppers
- 1 lb shishito peppers
- 6 cups grape seed oil
- sea salt
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
| Preparation - Saffron Aïoli | Gently crush saffron threads with a mortar and pestle or between your fingers. Pour hot water over the crushed threads and let steep for 1 minute. In a medium glass bowl, combine egg yolk, lemon juice, minced garlic, cayenne and saffron water. Whisk together. While whisking, slowly pour oil into the egg mixture. Continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth and combined. Set aside until ready to serve.
| Preparation - Flash Fried Peppers | Place peppers in a colander and rinse under cold water. Set on paper towels to thoroughly dry. Make sure there is no water left on the peppers before frying to prevent the oil from splashing.
In a large pot, heat oil over high heat. Using a deep-fry thermometer, continue to heat and adjust the temperature until it holds at 400°F. Using a long-handled mesh spoon, gently place a small number of peppers in the oil and cook for 45 seconds to 1 minute, until slightly blistered. Remove and place on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and season with sea salt. Continue to fry the peppers in batches, allowing the oil to return to temperature each time. The peppers can be kept warm in the oven if necessary.
Serve with lemon wedges, additional sea salt and saffron aïoli.