Country Know-How: Testing Oil for Frying

(From Vinnie Ann “AJ” Jackson)

Some people who like to fry food rely on an appliance like a Fry Daddy to set the oil temperature. Others use a thermometer to judge when the oil is hot enough or they toss in pieces of battered goodies to test it out. If the oil isn’t hot enough, though, the batter slides right off into the grease. But when it is ready, the batter is sealed to the food and cooks to a golden perfection.

If you’re one of those people who tests the oil until the samples cook up just right, there is a better way – and there has been ever since the invention of wooden matchsticks.

Years ago, my sister Jeane and her husband used to fish for catfish with their neighbor and friend, Frieda, who grew up in the bayou of Louisiana. The know-how to use a matchstick to test the readiness of hot oil had been handed down to Frieda, and she taught Jeane the trick. I rely on this same matchstick test whenever I get a hankering for fried anything.

Jeane’s Matchstick Test for Hot Oil

You’ll need wooden matchsticks (not paper) and oil for frying. Heat the oil in an appropriate pan until you think it might be hot enough, then drop an unused (unlit) wooden matchstick onto the top of the oil. Watch closely. The striking end will flare up briefly when the oil is hot enough, and die out right away. Remove the matchstick from the oil before frying your chicken, fish, fries, or whatever’s on the menu. And don’t worry about catching the oil on fire with the match, the tiny flame doesn’t stay lit.

I love tempura-battered veggies, what’s your favorite fried food?


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