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. Hi Terry –
    Olive oil is perfect for roasting or sautéing – I run into a smoking problem if I try to heat a large amount of it to a very high heat, like when pan-frying for example.

  2. Hi Cynthia –
    You can read more about coconut oil in Toby’s recent post Coconut Oil: Good or Bad?.

  3. Ann says:

    I was looking for a good recipe for Sw.potato fries, it always seems that mine come out soft and I would prefer crispy.

  4. Beverly Benton says:

    Where is the nutritional information (calories, grams of fat, etc.) for these recipes — specifically the Baked Meyer Lemon Fries featured in the photo?
    Did I overlook it?

    I won’t cook or buy anything if I can’t know what I’m putting in my body.

  5. Hi Beverly –
    I crunched the numbers and the Baked Meyer Lemon Fries have 250 calories and 9 grams of fat per serving (mostly healthy fat from olive oil). Click here to see all our healthy recipe guidelines.

  6. Bev says:

    I’m an EVOO fanatic and use it quite often. It is a well known fact it has a low heat tolerance in comparison to other oils. EVOO should be used to saute’ or quick fry something but never to truly fry or bake at high temps. Changes in temps can and will change the EVOO, depending on how pure, etc. it is the temp for these changes will vary. I cook almost strictly with EVOO but I never “fry” at high temps and generally don’t even bake at most temps over 375F. These temps are quite fine for olive oils & won’t change their flavors or smoke, generally, at these temps.

  7. Bev says:

    BTW I also use the Fiber One Cereals, crushed, as a great “like fried” food effect! Works great, adds some fiber at the same time! Hungry Girl gets kudos for that trick!

  8. Karina says:

    We make our own “shake and bake” with a mixture of corn flour, whole wheat flour, spices, salt, pepper, and whatever we find in the pantry. We make enough to last about 3 months, and this provides flavor and the delicious crust we always love.

  9. Mary says:

    Please beware!! I’ve recently been reading that many restaurants and food producers are following the trans fat ban by replacing hydrogenated fats with other oils/fats – often palm oil or palm kernal oil. The problem is that the “new” oil/fat is very high in saturated fat. Keep an eye out, remember your best bet is monounsaturated fat.

  10. RB says:

    Re: Olive Oil — because of the lower smoke point, cooking at high temps you will indeed get smoking — and also risk undercooking the interior of meats, esp bone-on chicken (outside nice & crisp, rather quickly, inside raw — ugh!) — those that disagree with the olive oil comment are sauteing, not deep frying, by their own admission. Here’s a little copy & paste info on recommended high temp oils:
    The oil or fat you use for deep-frying should have a high smoke point — the temperature to which it can be heated without smoking. Butter and margarine have low smoke points, so they aren’t good for frying but work for light sauteing. The best oils for deep-frying and high temperatures are refined safflower and sunflower oils, peanut, safflower and soy oils. Refined almond, avocado and cottonseed oil are also great if you can find and afford them, and canola oil is usually not a problem either.

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