Pros: Some recipes with great texture
Cons: Almost everything else
Rating: 2 out of 5
First published 11/4/2002
Review copy courtesy of Champion Press
I admit it – despite the need for dieting, I’m a fried foods fiend! If you’re careful you can make fried foods that really aren’t that oily or bad for you, so my husband and I still like to fry things despite the diet. Recently I had reason to try out Olivia Friedman’s “Fry It… You’ll Like It! 99 Recipes to Overcome Your Fear of Frying.” It’s a relatively small book that’s pretty much just recipe after recipe – no filler stories or photos here. Unfortunately, I wasn’t thrilled.
Although I did locate this book at Barnes and Noble’s online store, the very brief introduction seems to indicate that it’s meant as an accompaniment to some sort of electric fryer. While it assumes the presence of an electric fryer, you should be able to make these recipes with or without one.
The intro mostly consists of a few tips for frying happily, like using an appropriate oil (canola or peanut – Ms. Friedman doesn’t mention that this is because these oils have a high smoke-point and thus won’t smoke at frying temperatures), allowing the oil to cool completely afterward before mucking with it, frying away from children and pets, and so on. It also leaves out some tips that really should have gone with some of the ones she gave. (She mentions filtering your cooking oil for better taste, although doesn’t mention that this is what you do with used cooking oil that you want to re-use, not the fresh stuff. She also doesn’t mention under what circumstances you should really throw away used oil rather than re-using it, which might have been helpful.)
An Introduction to Frying?
For a book that seems to think it’s an introduction to frying meant to make the whole thing seem easy and fun, this book leaves an awful lot of things out. Like, say, oil temperature. Not a single recipe specifies the temperature of the oil (not even in terms of “high” and “low”), and let me tell you, you’ll want to cook the Nutty Fried Mushrooms at a very different temperature than the fritters! Some of them also give absolutely no indication as to how long the things should be fried – although I guess if you don’t give temperature, that kind of makes sense. Which then makes the recipes that do give timing seem a little nonsensical as well.
Then there are the other weird details. Like the Louisiana Corn Fritters with Bourbon Sauce recipe that says it makes 15 fritters. Umm, it makes about 50-80 instead. Did anyone kitchen-test these details?
The recipes are certainly simple – number of servings or items made, a quick list of ingredients, and maybe two or three very small paragraphs of instructions. But somehow they often don’t seem so simple when you’re making them and, for example, it turns out that dipping the little pastries in the honey sauce is much trickier than it sounds (just how are you supposed to dip them and not get the little fragile pockets of air filled with waaay too much honey, anyway? And how about the fact that honey doesn’t really want to stick to something that’s been fried in oil and has that much oil in the dough? And that the suckers are rather tough to dip without crushing the darn air pockets? Geez, this could have all been fixed with a simple instruction to drizzle the honey sauce overtop…).
But How Did the Recipes Come Out?
Of course, the ultimate test of a cookbook is in the tasting. And here, Fry It! gets a more mixed review. The fried cheese puffs, for example, have an absolutely exquisite texture – but not a scrap of flavor (the cheese in question is cottage cheese). They’re seriously in need of seasoning and possibly a dipping sauce, neither of which is suggested by the cookbook.
The nutty fried mushrooms are good (but not great – the nuts provide the only noticeable flavor). The Louisiana corn fritters themselves don’t have a lot of flavor, but the bourbon dipping sauce is fabulous, and at least you do sprinkle Creole seasoning on top (although mixing it in would have been better). Again, however, the texture of each recipe was wonderful.
As for the honey glazed cinnamon pastries, well, let’s just say that the large amount of oil in the dough combines fairly badly with the white grape juice that serves as sweetening, and the result is something that we tasted… and then we threw the remaining 60-or-so pastries in the garbage. We don’t waste large amounts of food like that unless we know we just aren’t going to touch it. Oh, and this is the one recipe with a not-so-good texture to it.
The cookbook has a wonderful table of contents with every recipe listed out, although no index for quick recipe location. The chapters are “Awesome Appetizers,” “Fried and True Entrees,” (did I mention that Fried and True is the name of a much better cookbook?) and “Desserts, Sweets and Treats.” The recipe names look fantastic – deep fried clams, hush puppies, chicken flautas, popcorn shrimp, chicken meatballs, buttermilk donuts, banana fritters, and much more.
The recipes in this cookbook look great. They look delicious. I thoroughly enjoyed reading through them. Unfortunately our experiences making the recipes have been much less enjoyable.
I would use this cookbook again, simply because of the flavor of that bourbon dipping sauce and the texture of those cheese puffs, but I wouldn’t recommend it to a friend and I certainly wouldn’t pay cover price for it ($12.95 is listed on the back of the book) – find it on sale if you really want to try it. Certainly I wouldn’t recommend it unless that friend didn’t mind a lot of trial-and-error, and had a fair amount of experience with frying foods already. Which kind of seems to make the whole point of the book moot, since anyone who’d find this book enjoyable would need to have already overcome their fear of frying.