Served Fried, Hot & Crispy, Odisha-Style
I stay in a colony where you have the neo-rich. To take advantage of affluence and spending power, some dynamic entrepreneurs have launched their start-ups in the food business in strategic corners. To some of these entrepreneurs, I give my expertise in menu engineering. Knowing the food culture of the city, one knows what the general public likes or dislikes. At the end, they prefer to have anything fried and crispy.
We go drooling when we are waiting for our turn to get that bhaji, chicken pakoda, fried momo. The most sought-after is the pakoda with anything inside, which has to be soft — mirchi, baingan, tomato, piazi (the local falafel), chicken and the list continues. We salivate because of our DNA — obsessed with texture: crispy and not crunchy — visualise the gol gappa aka pani puri. To top it all is the sound which enhances the enjoyment. It’s the brain which lights up the whole system, which makes the food disappear just by mapping the texture. The expression which comes up — the food is here and gulped.
Fried food is unstoppable because it is delicious (when served hot). It is due to the intricate sensory (evaluation) feel — the crunch, the melt in the mouth and the bite which releases the flavour. All this comes in when you bite the food and the sound emitted while you bite is enough to trigger the brain — feel good. Relate this when you bite the fried momo, chicken pakoda, the batter-covered onion which when bitten the centre melts in the mouth with crispy (sound) batter outside. The sensation experienced is quite unique compared to raw food or roasted food (which is on the drier side). For the fried items — it is the oil and the fat medium which adds to the flavour and the batter (rice, flour, corn starch, gram flour or Japanese bread crumbs aka panko) gives the crunch. The final result of the crunch read crispiness and flavour.
It’s the oil uptake which makes the fried item greasy or makes it tasty. The greasiness indicates oil temperature was too low to extract the moisture. The best temperature has to be around 170-190 degree Celsius which gives a good result. The process and the science behind it are simple – when the batter-coated food is put into the oil medium bubbles start appearing. It is due to hot oil: as the frying medium temperature is twice the temperature that of the food to be fried, and upon contact the water content in the food is released into the oil, to be quickly replaced by oil molecules. To get that perfect crispiness one has to make sure that the batter does not contain too much moisture making the (natural) gluten activity on the higher side, thus adding a bit of fat medium the gluten activity is less in the batter and ensures a crispier outcome.
In Odisha we have mastered the art of frying – be it pumpkin flowers, eggplants, all greens, bananas, potato, prawns, fish, chicken: you name it and we have a delicious batter fried outcome. The street food evening crowd proves it.
Linga & Bijay bhaina (Famous Street Food Vendors) Rules For Deep Frying: They opine ghee (clarified butter) is the best frying medium and that is always the top recommendation. As it is expensive one can reach out for sunflower or peanut oil instead.
Though at home one uses cold-pressed oil for shallow-frying; it may not have the same flavour, but still it works. To ensure equal distribution of heat a heavy bottomed pan is advised for a crispy fried dish.
Follow the golden rules to get a crispier exterior and soft inside, as in KFC or the piyazi and pakodi. These have been discussed, noted, and procedures verified & documented with experienced chefs and cooks through time.
The Coating: It is important for food to have a good, even coating of batter. This will help the meat or vegetable inside to stay moist while developing a crisp exterior. Remember moderation is the key. Even with ‘naked’ frying, as in the case of French fries, if one wants a crisp exterior, dusting of corn flour, besan, rice flour, or all-purpose flour works great.
Celsius: A simple way to assess is to dust a little flour over the oil. If it sizzles, you know the oil has reached ideal and optimum temperature. If the oil is too cold, the food will sink to the bottom of the wok. If the oil is too hot, it will remain on the surface. When the temperature of the oil is just right, the ingredient will first sink and then float up to the surface. That is what you’re looking for. It is important that the fried food rests on a kitchen towel as soon as it emerges from the pan, to allow all the extra oil to drain out.
Maintain the Traffic: Do not overcrowd the pan; too much crowding will drop the temperature of the frying medium and movement of the food will be restricted. Go for it when it is hot.
For The Road: Frying was the only medium to preserve the food for a longer period. This was known as ‘SAFRI’ food or the cuisine for the travellers. With the basic guidelines, feel free to play with ingredients and batters; the inspiration is everywhere – from the recipe books to your favourite street food vendors.
Fried Food Is Bad: So are alcohol, wine, cheese and coffee. Thus moderation is the key.