Frying: A History of Stir-Frying and Deep-Frying in Asian Cuisine
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Frying is the cooking of food in oil or another fat, a technique that originated in ancient Egypt around 2500 BC. Chemically, oils and fats are the same, differing only in melting point, and the distinction is only made when needed. Foods can be fried in a variety of fats, including lard, vegetable oil, rapeseed oil and olive oil. In commerce, many fats are called oils by custom, e.g. palm oil and coconut oil, which are solid at room temperature. A variety of foods may be fried, including the potato chip, bread, eggs and foods made from eggs, such as omelettes or pancakes.
As a cooking method, frying is used in almost every cuisine in the world. But how is it used in Asian cuisine?
Frying is used in Asian cuisine to prepare a wide variety of dishes. It’s a quick and easy way to cook food and get it crispy and tender. The high heat of the oil allows ingredients to cook quickly and evenly.
In this article, I’ll take a look at how frying is used in Asian cuisine and discuss some of the most popular dishes.
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In this post we'll cover:
- 1 The Art of Frying in Asian Cuisine
- 2 The Art of Stir-Frying in Asian Cuisine
- 3 Get Ready to Deep-Fry: The Sizzling World of Asian Cuisine
- 4 The Evolution of Frying in Asian Cuisine
- 5 Asian Delights: Top Dishes That Use Frying
- 6 The Impact of Frying on Nutritional Value in Asian Cuisine
- 7 Conclusion
The Art of Frying in Asian Cuisine
Frying is a cooking method that involves cooking food in hot oil, typically at a high temperature. This method is widely used in Asian cuisine, especially in Chinese dishes. Frying is a quick and easy way to cook a variety of foods, including vegetables, meat, and seafood. The method involves adding oil to a hot pan or wok, followed by the ingredients that need to be cooked. The food is then cooked until it is crispy and tender.
The Tools and Ingredients Needed for Frying
To fry food, chefs need a variety of utensils and ingredients, including:
- A wok or frying pan: This is the most typical utensil used for frying in Asian cuisine. It is a wide, round-bottomed pan that allows for quick and even cooking.
- Oil: Any type of oil can be used for frying, but vegetable oil is the most commonly used in Asian cuisine. It has a high smoke point, which means it can be heated to a high temperature without burning.
- Ingredients: Vegetables, meat, seafood, and even small pieces of food can be fried. The ingredients need to be sliced or chopped finely and marinated with soy sauce or other seasonings to achieve the best results.
- Knives: A sharp knife is needed to cut the ingredients into small pieces. Chefs typically use a Chinese cleaver or a Japanese Santoku knife.
- Gas or electric stove: A gas stove is the best option for frying as it heats up quickly and can be adjusted easily. However, an electric stove can also be used.
The Different Methods of Frying
There are two main methods of frying used in Asian cuisine:
- Stir-frying: This involves cooking food quickly in a small amount of oil over high heat. The food is constantly stirred and tossed to ensure even cooking.
- Deep-frying: This involves cooking food in a large amount of oil at a high temperature. The food is completely submerged in the oil and cooked until it is crispy and golden brown.
The Famous Dishes that Use Frying
Frying is used in a wide variety of Asian dishes, including:
- Kung Pao Chicken: This is a famous Chinese dish that involves stir-frying diced chicken with peanuts, vegetables, and chili peppers.
- Pad Thai: This is a popular Thai dish that involves stir-frying rice noodles with vegetables, meat, and seafood.
- Tempura: This is a Japanese dish that involves deep-frying seafood and vegetables in a light batter.
- Bánh Xèo: This is a Vietnamese dish that involves frying a crispy crepe filled with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts.
The Effects of Frying on Nutritional Value
Frying can reduce the nutritional value of food as it adds extra calories and fat. However, if done correctly, frying can produce tender and edible food that is ready to serve in a short amount of time. To achieve the best results, chefs need to be careful when frying and adjust the heat and cooking time accordingly.
The Art of Stir-Frying in Asian Cuisine
Stir-frying is a dynamic and fast-paced cooking method that requires a particular set of techniques and input to get it right. Here’s how it’s usually done:
- The wok or pan is heated until it gets very hot.
- A small quantity of oil is added to the wok or pan and is heated until it starts to smoke.
- The ingredients are then added and are quickly tossed and stirred for a short amount of time.
- A mixture of soy sauce and other seasonings is added to the wok or pan, and the tossing and stirring continue until the ingredients are cooked.
- The dish is then served immediately.
Popular Stir-Fry Dishes
Stir-frying is undoubtedly one of the most popular methods of preparing food in Asia, and it has spread to many other parts of the world. Here are some of the most popular stir-fry dishes:
- Chop Suey: a dish that usually consists of meat, vegetables, and rice, all cut into small, bite-sized pieces and stir-fried together.
- Fried Rice: a dish that involves cooking rice in a wok with other ingredients such as eggs, vegetables, and meats.
- Beef and Broccoli: a dish that involves stir-frying beef and broccoli together with a soy sauce-based mixture.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Stir-Frying
Stir-frying has its advantages and disadvantages, just like any other cooking method. Here are some of them:
- Stir-frying is a fast and efficient way of cooking, making it perfect for busy weeknights.
- It requires very little oil, making it a healthier option than deep-frying.
- The high heat used in stir-frying helps to retain the nutrients in the ingredients.
- Stir-frying requires a lot of attention and constant stirring, which can be tiring.
- The high heat used in stir-frying can lead to unevenly cooked ingredients.
- Some dishes may require additional preparation steps, such as marinating the meats beforehand.
Expert Opinion on Stir-Frying
Kenji, a recent author on Asian cuisine, says that stir-frying is a highly versatile and dynamic cooking method that can significantly elevate the taste of any dish. He also notes that sautéing is a similar method to stir-frying, but it requires a lower heat and longer cooking time.
Stir-Frying in Restaurants
Stir-frying is a common technique used in many Asian restaurants, and it’s often done in a large wok over high heat. The wok is usually round and sized to fit the quantity of ingredients being prepared. The ingredients are placed in the wok and tossed and stirred until they’re cooked. The dish is then served immediately, making it a perfect time-saver for busy restaurants.
Get Ready to Deep-Fry: The Sizzling World of Asian Cuisine
Chinese cuisine is known for its bold and flavorful dishes, many of which are cooked using the deep-frying method. Some popular Chinese dishes that are deep-fried include:
- Spring rolls: These crispy and delicious rolls are filled with fresh ingredients like vegetables and meat, then deep-fried to perfection.
- Sesame balls: These sweet treats are made from glutinous rice flour and filled with sweet bean paste. They are then deep-fried and coated in sesame seeds.
- Bok choy fritters: Bok choy is a type of Chinese cabbage that is often used in stir-fries. In this dish, the bok choy is mixed with a batter and deep-fried until crispy.
How Do Chefs Proceed with Deep-Frying?
Deep-frying can be easy to do, but it does require some skill to get it right. Here are the steps that chefs typically follow when deep-frying:
- Heat the oil: The oil should be heated to a high temperature before any food is added. This ensures that the food will cook quickly and evenly.
- Prepare the food: The food should be cut into small pieces and coated in a batter or breading before it is added to the hot oil.
- Add the food: The food should be carefully added to the hot oil, taking care not to splash or flare up the oil.
- Cook the food: The food should be cooked until it is golden brown and crispy on the outside.
- Remove the food: The food should be carefully removed from the hot oil using a slotted spoon or tongs.
- Drain the food: The food should be placed on a paper towel-lined plate to drain off any excess oil.
What Are the Flavors?
Deep-fried dishes in Asian cuisine come in a wide range of flavours and can be found in many different languages. Some popular flavours include:
- Sweet and sour: This flavour combination is common in Chinese cuisine and is often used in deep-fried dishes like sweet and sour pork.
- Spicy: Many deep-fried dishes in Asian cuisine are spicy, thanks to the use of ingredients like chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns.
- Savory: Deep-fried dishes can also be savory, with ingredients like soy sauce and oyster sauce adding depth of flavour.
The Evolution of Frying in Asian Cuisine
Frying has been an important cooking method in Chinese cuisine for thousands of years. The character for “stir-fry” appears in surviving texts from the Western Han dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE), and it is believed that the technique started even earlier than that. Ancient Chinese chefs equipped their kitchens with wood-fired woks, which were expensive and difficult to maintain but allowed for a wide range of cooking techniques. Frying was a convenient and quick way to prepare food, and it was especially popular for preparing small cuts of meat and vegetables.
The Rise of Stir-Frying as a Proper Cooking Technique
Stir-frying became an art form in Chinese cooking during the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), when chefs began to add sauces and other ingredients to their dishes. The famous Szechuan dish Kung Pao chicken, for example, includes peanuts, red chili peppers, and Szechuan peppercorns. The word “stir-fry” is actually a translation of the Chinese term chǎo, which refers to the technique of cooking food quickly over high heat while stirring constantly.
The Importance of Frying in Asian Cooking Today
Frying is still an essential cooking method in many Asian cuisines, including Vietnamese, Cantonese, and Thai. In fact, some of the biggest reasons for the popularity of stir-frying and deep-frying are the benefits they offer to diets. Frying allows for the use of less oil than other methods, and the quick cooking time helps to preserve the internal nutrients of the ingredients. Some of the most popular Asian dishes that include frying as a cooking method include:
- Stir-fried beef with onions and ginger
- Deep-fried pork cutlets
- Stir-fried vegetables with soy sauce
- Hot and sour soup with seafood
- Fried rice with egg and chopped onions
- Dry-fried green beans with minced pork
The Evolution of Frying in Western Cuisine
Frying also became popular in Western cuisine, but the methods used are often different from those used in Asian cooking. In the West, deep-frying is more common than stir-frying, and dishes are often prepared with heavier, fattier ingredients. However, chefs are now understanding the benefits of lighter, vegan-friendly dishes that include frying as a cooking method. Some of the most famous Western dishes that include frying as a cooking method include:
- Fish and chips
- Fried chicken
- Onion rings
- French fries
- Fried calamari
Asian Delights: Top Dishes That Use Frying
Chinese cuisine is known for its rich and hot dishes, and frying is a specific method that produces some of the most popular and easy-to-enjoy food. Two specific dishes that use frying are braised pork belly and shao rou.
- Braised Pork Belly: This dish is prepared by submerging pork belly in a liquid that usually includes soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar. The dish is then cooked slowly, which translates to “red-cooked” in Chinese, and imparts a reddish-brown color and velvety coating to the pork belly. The edges of the pork belly become crunchy, while the interior is juicy and tender. This dish is popular in Shanghai and is usually served with rice.
- Shao Rou: This dish is a Cantonese-style roasted pork belly that is pictured as arrowhead-shaped pieces. The pork belly is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and five-spice powder before being roasted in a wok. The dish is easy to prepare and is a popular street food in China.
Spring Rolls and Fritters
Spring rolls and fritters are two dishes that use frying as a method to produce a crunchy exterior.
- Spring Rolls: Spring rolls are a specific type of Chinese dish that uses a specific type of wrapper made from rice flour. The filling can include fresh produce, such as carrots, cabbage, and bean sprouts, as well as pork or shrimp. The rolls are then fried until crispy and served with a soy sauce-based dipping sauce.
- Fritters: Fritters are a popular dish in many Asian countries, including China. They are made by mixing a batter of flour, water, and eggs and then adding various ingredients, such as sesame seeds, vegetables, or meat. The mixture is then dropped into hot oil and fried until crispy. Fritters are usually served as a snack or appetizer.
Wok Cooking: Stir-Fry and Deep-Fry
Wok cooking is a specific style of cooking that uses frying as a method to produce delicious dishes.
- Stir-Fry: Stir-fry is a popular dish that is prepared by quickly cooking small pieces of meat and vegetables in a wok over high heat. The dish is usually flavored with soy sauce, garlic, and ginger and is served with rice.
- Deep-Fry: Deep-frying is a method that gives food a crispy exterior. Chefs use a wok to deep-fry food, which means that the food is completely submerged in hot oil. This method is used to prepare dishes such as sesame chicken, which is coated in a batter and then deep-fried until crispy.
Frying is a specific method that is used in many Asian dishes to produce delicious and flavorful food. However, it is important to note that there is a difference between frying and braising. Braising is a method that involves cooking food in a liquid, while frying involves cooking food in oil. When frying, it is important to be careful not to catch the oil on fire or create a mess. Chefs must maneuver the food carefully in the wok to ensure that all sides are exposed to the hot oil.
The Impact of Frying on Nutritional Value in Asian Cuisine
Frying techniques have been an important part of Asian cuisine since ancient times. Here are some key points to consider:
- The use of wet and dry frying methods varies depending on the dish and the local cuisine. For example, wet frying is commonly used in Chinese cuisine for dishes like Kung Pao chicken, while dry frying is more popular in Sichuan cuisine for dishes like dry-fried green beans.
- The dedication and skill of the cook also play a crucial role in the quality of the fried food. For example, the famous dish of General Tso’s chicken requires a highly complex frying process to achieve the right texture and flavor.
- Frying techniques have also been influenced by the availability of ingredients and the spread of different cooking styles across different regions. For example, the use of the wok in stir-frying is a technique that originated in the hills of China and has since spread to other parts of Asia and the world.
The Importance of Data and Improvement in Frying Techniques
To fully understand the effects of frying on nutritional value in Asian cuisine, more research is needed. Here are some key points to consider:
- The addition of data on the nutritional content of fried food to the nutrition table can help people make more informed choices about their food.
- Improvements in frying techniques can also contribute to a better understanding of the impact of frying on nutritional value. For example, the use of low-fat oils and the initial processing of ingredients can help to reduce the fat content of fried food.
- The role of frying in Asian cuisine is vast and varied, and understanding the impact of frying on nutritional value is crucial for the continued popularity and improvement of this cooking method.
So, that’s how frying is used in Asian cuisine. It’s a quick and easy way to cook food, especially vegetables, and a great way to add flavor. You should use a high heat oil and a frying pan with a round bottom. Frying is a great way to enjoy delicious Asian dishes like fried rice and tempura. So, go ahead and give it a try!
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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.