Housewarming Cooking: No Small Fry

Today I continue my series about the food I cooked for our recent housewarming party (photos still forthcoming). If you missed the last two posts on the chicken skewer tower and BBQ pork, you might want to check those out as well.

It is only on very special occasions, maybe two or three times a year, that I bust out my deep fryer. It's not that large or difficult to use, but once you have all of that oil hot, it only seems worthwhile if you're making food for a special occasion. Like for a party. So needless to say, I busted my fryer out for the party and used it to make not one, not two, but three of my party specialties.

The first was homemade corn chips. I filled my fryer to the “max” line, which is about half a gallon, with vegetable oil. I turned it on and set it to 350 degrees and closed the lid. If you're not working with an automatic fryer, but oil in a saucepan, you should have a splatter guard and also a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature and not let it get overheated. For the $20-30 that an automatic one costs, it's still pretty much worth the investment even for these few times a year that I use it. While heating up, I took about sixty small corn tortillas and neatly chopped the stack in half and then into chip-shaped thirds. Once the light went off and the oil was up to temperature, I put about a fifth of my raw chips into the little fryer basket. I dunked the basket, shaking it for several seconds at the beginning to prevent sticking. Then I let the chips go for about a minute and half on each side, until they were just crispy (not bendable but breakable). As I removed them I let them cool and drip onto a drying rack over paper towel and sprinkled a bit of sea salt over them. I repeated this process through a number of batches until I had a nice bowlful of chips that I served with some chunky, fresh salsa at the party. Among all of the food, the crunchy, salty, homemade chips were the first thing to completely go. A fresh corn chip is so far removed in quality and taste from the kind of chips we eat normally that they can be hard to resist.

Next, I made my only contribution to dessert: doughnut holes, easy style. It's a method I saw on the Food Network ages ago and have done for parties to great accord on a number of occasions. I simply buy tubes of pre-packaged pizza dough (like Pillsbury), break off little hunks and roll them into little balls. Each tube made at least thirty doughnuts. In batches, I layered the balls of dough on the frying basket so they weren't touching. Again, when I submerged them, I shook the basket so they didn't stick to each other or the basket. I let these cook for about two minutes on each side, until golden. When I remove each batch I put them right into one of two large paper bags. One paper bag had powdered sugar in it, the other cinnamon and sugar. A batch at a time, I vigorously shook the bag for ten seconds or so. It's awesome: they come out completely coated and looking amazing. They are best when served right away – hot, crispy, doughy, sweet and divine – but a few hours on the counter doesn't mess them up much, just cools them. They were ridiculously good as always. While we gave away most of the leftovers (I made a lot), I kept a few of each kind in my freezer to eat frozen – amazing!

Lastly, I made wontons. Pineapple cream cheese wontons, by making a filling of cream cheese (one tub, whipped), minced scallion (two or three), diced pineapple (one can) and salt and filling little store-bought wonton wrappers (about forty) with little teaspoons. I closed the wrappers with a brush of egg wash. This is a great vegetarian wonton and the flavor combination is great – I modified it from a great wonton we tried at a sushi restaurant in Las Vegas once. I again fried the dumplings in single-layer batches, shaking as I submerged them and letting them cook for a under two minutes on each side until the outside is crispy and golden. I let them drain on the rack after and topped them with a little sea salt. They were very popular – crispy on the outside with an interestingly flavored, creamy inside. I thought I made them too pineappley, but people loved them and they went very quickly.

While I may not use a fryer often, when I do, I like to make it count. I like making dishes people will actually enjoy, not just ones that I fry for the sake of frying. In this case, I was able to knock out three items in under an hour of cooking and while different, they were all immense hits at the party. Definitely ones to keep in mind for next time.

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