Cut the Fat in Frying

by in Healthy Tips, May 29, 2009

French Fries
Who doesn’t love the savory crunch of fried foods? Sadly, the greasy aftertaste, stomachache and fat overload often leave me wanting to break up. With a few tweaks, you can still make lighter versions of your favorites.

Too Many Calories, Too Much Fat
Americans are fascinated with fried foods. Browse our site and you can find a fried version of most everything: mac and cheese, zucchini, plantains, apple pies and even butter balls (guess who created that recipe?). Beyond that, nearly every restaurant or fast-food menu features something fried. A large order of fast-food fries has more than 500 calories and 30 grams of fat (including 7 grams of artery-hating saturated fat). Another favorite, fried chicken sandwiches weigh in at about 500 calories and 26 grams fat each. And then there’s breakfast — a simple doughnut has about 200 calories and 10 grams fat.

Many U.S. cities have started banning trans fats in restaurants (trans fats come from hydrogenated, non-wholesome cooking oils), but even fried foods without trans fat are still full of calories and other no-so-good-for you fats.

And it doesn’t stop at restaurant fries or chicken sandwiches; chips, tater tots, chicken cutlets, fish sticks, mozzarella sticks, onion rings — all fried. But there are ways to enjoy these foods without packing on the extra pounds. The most important thing: steer clear of the deep fryer. A small amount of oil in a good pan or a hot oven is all you need for similar flavor and crunch.

Step 1: Choose Your Oil Wisely
All oils have the same amount of calories and fat — 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon. But some oils are less processed and better for frying than others. At home, I like to use canola or grapeseed oil. Sometimes all I need is a spritz of cooking spray! I like these oils because they can withstand high cooking temperatures and don’t have a strong flavor that will interfere with my recipes. They also contain some omega-3 fats and antioxidants. But you should use oils sparingly; focus on getting your basic nutrients from lower-calorie foods. Though healthy, extra-virgin olive oil isn’t good for any type of frying because of its strong flavor; at high cooking temperatures, it can also smoke up your kitchen.

Step 2: Fake It
Faux frying isn’t a bad thing. Light breading and a small amount of oil is the magic combo for making this work. I use coatings made from cornmeal, cracker crumbs, corn flakes, panko or whole-wheat bread crumbs to create a crispy crust. Just dredge your chicken, fish, shrimp or veggie through seasoned flour, egg wash and one of these coatings. You can trade the egg wash for a quick drizzle of honey and sprinkle on the crispy coating, too.

After coating, place food on a baking sheet and into a hot oven; then bake it until golden and crisp (follow the recipe for times). Another trick is to pre-cook your breaded foods in a nonstick pan with a few teaspoons of oil. Saute a few minutes on each side, and then transfer to the oven to finish cooking. This works well for seafood especially.

Sometimes you don’t even need a coating. Oven fries may not be the same as those fresh from the fryer but they’re still delicious. I just slice up some Yukon gold or sweet potatoes into sticks or wedges, toss the pieces with a few teaspoons of oil, add salt and pepper and then roast in a 425 degree oven for about 35 to 40 minutes (turning once). You can spice up your fries with seasoned salt, chili powder or minced garlic, too. Leave the skins on for a bit of crunchy texture.

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Comments (31)

  1. Krikri says:

    Dana, the paradox about fatty foods is – they look the most sumptuous amongst the various cooking methods. Lets take fried turkey and smoked turkey. You see the fried version is more inviting and looks quite appealing. Also, frying appears to be an easy cooking method. Perhaps these are the reasons why fried foods become so common. You rightly cited examples from Foodnetwork.com where there is the fried version of almost every food. There are 1285 recipes for turkey on Foodnetwork.com as at June 29, 2009. Out of these, 128 of them use frying method. You will notice how big this figure is if you look at the fact that there are 19 cooking methods listed.

    But what makes the food look rich may make us ill too. So we need to draw a balance. We will make rich looking food but less of cholesterol. Many people will want to make wholesome foods but do not know the alternatives to use. So suggestions like canola oil help people cut down on their fat. I have seen hundreds of recipes at Foodnetwork.com that make use of this alternative; examples been Mongolian Ginger Beef.

  2. nora@ffr says:

    very effective.. keep it up!! :)

  3. Greg says:

    Panko bread crumbs are another option for mimicking the taste of fried foods. I made oven-fried chicken with panko crumbs a couple nights ago, and it was awesome- all the crunch of fried chicken, with way way less fat.

    Oven fries are another great item…I usually use regular baking potatoes, cut into 6-8 wedges…same cooking temp and time, but I them more. Also, I took a tip from Tyler Florence’s show- I put my pan in the oven while it was preheating- that definitely helps make the fries crisp like real french fries.

    Thanks for the new tips!

  4. Deanna says:

    We make oven fries all the time! I cut into sticks, throw in bowl, drizzle with a little oil, put on parchment on cookie sheet 425 degrees. I never even have to turn them. I wait ’til out of oven to use S&P, the salt draws moisture out and you don’t want soggy fries. My husband likes them better than the yummy ones at the state fair!

  5. tanner says:

    is it true that all oils have only 120 calories?

  6. Hi Tanner -
    It’s true, all oils have about 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon. Those spoonfuls (and calories) can add up quickly, so make sure to measure out portions.

  7. Rosemary says:

    I’d have to disagree with you about using olive oil for “frying.” I use it exclusively, though what I do is more correctly referred to as sauteeing. The only high heat cooking I do is stir-frying and, if done properly, olive oil doesn’t smoke. I’ve also not noticed any unwanted taste. There’s nothing better than spring veggies sauteed in extra virgin olive oil and then tossed with whole grain pasta!

  8. Terry W. Schwartz says:

    I disagree with your olive oil comment, I use it exclusively, and it has the best taste, never had a smoke problem and it is by far the healthiest, just don’t go overboard.

  9. Cynthia A Meyer says:

    what about coconut oil?

  10. Mary says:

    I love to cook with the lighter version of evoo. (I hate Rachel Ray). I am told you can’t deep fry with it. I prefer to deep fry chicken wings, but can you use olive oil for that?

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