Deep-fried seafood is a crowd pleaser, but how do you make yours stand out? Two words: oil and batter.
Go with oil that has a high smoking point, such as soybean oil, which is used at Brennan’s in New Orleans. Fry between 350 F and 375 F to avoid an oily result and be sure to filter the oil to prolong its use.
Keep the fryer pristine so the leftover bits don’t burn and cause the oil to taste burnt, says Executive Chef Colleen Conrad of Pearl Dive Oyster Palace in Washington, D.C.
Once you have oil and temperature down, consider the batter or coating.
Coating/Batter: Fine cornmeal and flour
The dish: Oyster po'boy with housemade pickles and cayenne aioli, served with french fries, $15
Why it's best: Fine-grained cornmeal coats the buttermilk-dipped oysters without compromising flavor.
“The oyster po'boy is fried in a 50-50 fine cornmeal to flour seasoned coating. We also contain our seafood to one fryer, as this also helps the line cooks. The cornmeal bits can fall off and pollute the oil.”
—Executive Chef Colleen Conrad, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, Washington, D.C.
Coating/Batter: Buttermilk and flour, seasoned with paprika, allspice, black pepper and celery salt
The dish: Alligator bites, $14
Why it's best: A soak in buttermilk provides flavor and moisture.
“This helps to add a good texture that backs the alligator really well and rounds out the whole flavor.”
—Executive Chef Alex Pirani, Bo's Kitchen and Bar Room, New York City
Coating/Batter: Cornmeal, flour and cornstarch
The dish: Crispy fried oyster salad with butter lettuce, piquillo peppers, fennel, and buttermilk ravigote, $21
Why it’s best: The cornmeal, with a creole spice seasoning for heat, helps keep the oysters crispy. Avoid overcooking oysters by frying quickly in 360 F oil.
“The crispy oysters work great with the delicate butter lettuce and ravigote dressing. It’s great at all hours of the day—through breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
—Chef Slade Rushing, Brennan’s New Orleans
Coating/Batter: Flour with garlic powder, cayenne pepper, Old Bay seasoning, and white pepper
The dish: Buttermilk fried shrimp with pistachio and broccoli slaw and house-cut potato chips, $24
Why it’s best: Overnight buttermilk soaking and classic seasonings adhere to Lowcountry tradition.
“‘Peasant dishes’ are what have molded Charleston cuisine. Our restaurants honor that by letting tradition be the inspiration.”
—Executive Chef Adam Close, Blossom, Charleston, South Carolina
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