For those who don't know, EVOO is the acronym for extra virgin olive oil...sorry, I know I sound like Rachael Ray. Anyhow, there was a recent thread on olive oil that triggered a tangent on deep-frying using EVOO. I've been wanting to try this for a while now, and the recent thread pushed me to give it a shot. My other source of inspiration was, you guessed it, the Zuni cookbook. I've been toting it by my side 24/7 like it's my newborn baby or something :-) There's a recipe for "piccolo fritto" which literally means "small fry." Basically, think of deep-fried calamari but better...using a cornucopia of stuff that isn't commonly seen...radicchio, orange slices, capers, pencil-thin asparagus, etc.
Basic concept is that you dunk your ingredients into buttermilk, dredge in a mixture of all-purpose and semolina flour, and fry in peanut oil. Sprinkle w/ salt after frying and enjoy; no dipping sauce necessary. I used a mild-flavored EVOO for frying and what I already had on hand which was 2% milk and all-purpose flour. My "misto" or mix consisted of thinly-sliced Eureka lemon, frozen artichoke hearts, calamari tentacles, and peas. I fried each in a separate batch.
Poured about an inch of Trader Joe's mid-grade EVOO in a cast iron skillet. Heated it up on high heat and then turned it down to med-high during cooking. Most recipes say the oil should be around 365-375F, but I don't use a thermometer for deep-frying and use other cues instead. The oil will start to smell (not burnt), surface will start to shimmer, and then I dip a chopstick til it hits the bottom of the pan. If bubbles rapidly emerge from the tip to the surface, then I know it's ready. Sometimes I'll sprinkle a tiny bit of batter or flour in to make sure.
Well, let me say that it was a huge success! In fact, the lemon slices were the highlight. Eureka lemons worked well since they have a thicker pith and rind than Meyers, which gives the thin disks more structure. Flavor was tart but the frying had mellowed it and eliminated any bitterness from the pith. I also had a revelation that a good fritto is only muddled by an aioli or heavy dipping sauce, commonly served in restaurants.
Even though lemons have alot of water content, they spit and splattered the least of any of them. In fact, the tentacles were the most scary to fry since I had to step back about 3 ft., clutching a large lid in front of me like a battle shield to remove them. Hence, they were overdone but not quite burnt. Peas were also more fussy, so I wouldn't do either of those again.
I actually found EVOO to be a very stable frying medium; it never smelled burnt or fluctuated in temp. that much when I moved things in and out. I wouldn't use it to fry everything (eg, fried chicken), but think it would complement certain Mediterranean dishes well. Below is a pic (too bad you can't see the artichoke). I strained the oil and stored it in the fridge for reuse. Can't wait to fry lemons again w/ radicchio, fennel, and sage leaves. Let me know if anyone has any other suggestions or comments. Happy frying!