Living as I do in the Deep South, it is not possible to escape the culture of frying that exists here, so this month's edition of Is My Blog Burning is most apropros: "Summer's Flying, Let's Get Frying," hosted by Linda of At Our Table. I've murmured on numerous occasions that this is a food culture which can inspire both awe, and unintentional hilarity: where else can you find cuisine capable of rendering vegetables unhealthy? (And in addition to making healthy foods unhealthy, they can also make unhealthy food even worse for you. Two weeks ago I drove past a sign at a local restaurant boasting the availability of deep fried macaroni and cheese.) And where, when you go to employee orientation are you informed that you may not bring your own deep fryer to work? (I'm not kidding; the week before I started work I was told that someone had brought a "big ol' fry daddy" and was frying catfish in his cubicle). I'll bet Scott Adams has never considered this for a Dilbert cartoon...
The Deep South is also where I encountered fried turkey for the first time. Fried turkey is exquisite. You never want oven baked turkey after you've had a fried turkey. Tender, juicy meat, crispy skin. Sadly, also responsible for 15 deaths and countless houses burning down last year. Apparently some people don't realize that it's best to fully thaw and dry the turkey before dropping it into a vat of oil (hot oil + water = huge owie). And dropping it in the vat of oil appears to be the other problem -- that is, some people haven't had the same "Eureka!" moment Archimedes had in his bath (the Archimedes principle states that an object immersed in a fluid experiences a buoyant force that is equal in magnitude to the force of gravity on the displaced fluid). In short, if you have a vat full of boiling oil that you didn't pre-measure to include a twenty pound turkey, and you drop said turkey in, a lot of the oil is going to overflow. Boiling oil overflowing is bad; overflowing onto gas burner is usually fire-truck-and-insurance-company-call disastrous.
Frying is religion here. But don't think I sneer at southern cooking even if some of it induces alarm: I grew up eating grits, bacon and eggs, the residual effect of my father's time at Ft. Benning, and weekends in Macon, Georgia with the Bone family. Few foods afford greater satisfaction than that breakfast. My Grandma Bone has been gone many years; and still I yearn for her buttermilk fried chicken. In fact, fried chicken serves as the centerpiece of a problem I used to have: whenever I went grocery shopping while hungry, I would bring home family packs of fried chicken (which I didn't even like because I preferred homemade fried chicken!). It was like a physical tic, a culinary Tourette's Syndrome; when we were dating, Hubby once opened the fridge and said, "You went shopping hungry again, didn't you?" When I tried to demur, he simply threw the door open, revealing the damning evidence. (A much more forceful reaction than the time he opened the freezer and found a ten gallon drum of green tea ice cream inside, whereupon he simply closed the door and walked away in mute stupefaction).
I have a cast iron skillet that belonged to Emil's grandfather; it's been lovingly restored and seasoned for me by Hubby, ready to heat up lard and meat.
But I think for this event, it's best to honor my southern surroundings and go with deep frying. Here's a favorite: Fried Soy-Sake Shrimp Wontons with Ginger Aioli. It's modified from a recipe that originally appeared in Bon Appetit.
Fried Soy-Sake Shrimp Wontons with Ginger Aioli
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 green onions, chopped
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sake or dry Sherry
1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, chopped
24 deveined peeled uncooked large shrimp (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 cup mayonnaise (preferably homemade; or I like Japanese mayo)
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
Wonton wrappers (use round ones)
Combine soy sauce, green onions, 4 tablespoons oil, vinegar, sake, brown sugar, and garlic in a bowl and whisk to blend. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour, turning shrimp occasionally.
Blend mayonnaise and ginger in food processor until smooth. Transfer ginger aioli to small bowl and refrigerate. Drain marinade from shrimp into small saucepan; bring to boil. Whisk 3 tablespoons boiled marinade into ginger aioli; reserve remaining boiled marinade.
To make wontons: Chop marinated shrimp into small pieces. Spoon a small amount in the wonton wrapper. Be careful: too much filling and the wonton will burst. Use water to moisten edges, and fold the two sides of the wrapper together to make a half-moon shape. Starting at one corner, fold the wrapper into pleats, pressing the sides together to seal the dumpling. Make sure to press firmly so that the dumpling is completely sealed. Here are great step-by-step instructions of the technique with photos.
Heat oil in a deep pot (or use a fryer if you have one). When you flick water into the pot and it sizzles, it’s probably ready. Don't let the oil get TOO hot (how you can tell: if you put in one of the shrimp wontons, and it browns immediately and begins to burn, remove the pot from stove top and let the oil cool down slightly). Add dumplings, about 3-5 at a time. They should sink to the bottom first, then rise up and begin to crisp up and brown. Once they’re nice and golden brown, remove from oil and drain on paper towels (or better yet, a cloth towel) to soak excess oil.
Serve with the ginger aioli or with the reserved boiled marinade as dipping sauces.