Monday, October 27, 2008

Fried Foods

Frying food has been around literally forever; it appears in almost every culture’s culinary history. However, the concept of deep frying—where the food is completely submersed in hot fat—is not a European invention, a source of much of our cooking tradition. Some credit the Chinese for inventing deep frying. Whatever its origin, this practice was introduced to the American colonies in the South by African slaves. It only became a popular American staple with the growth of the restaurant industry and the commercial deep fryer in the 20th century.

Why do we crave fried foods so much? The technique produces an attractive end result that is flavorful due to the quick cooking and an appealing juxtaposition of textures: crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. Just about anything and everything can be and is fried—from dill pickles to candy bars. You can find fried foods at most restaurants but here is my list of Best of Madison for Fried Foods:

French Fries: The Old Fashioned. They got their name because they really are popular and state-of-the-art there (and in Belgium), though accompanied with mayonnaise instead of ketchup. The perfect French fry has a golden brown, crispy crust with a baked-potato-like inside which they have definitely got down pat at the OF.

Home fries: Marigold Kitchen. What’s a real American breakfast without American fries or home fries or whatever you call them? The ones at Marigold Kitchen live up to expectation have lots of browny bits and most of all, flavor, flavor, flavor!

Hash Browns: Tornado Steak House. Good hash browns are simple and cooked on a griddle. Good ones have a crusty brown exterior but are not mushy when you sink your teeth into them. Tornado does hash browns right and they are simply delicious.

Onion Rings: Tornado Steak House has wonderful battered onion rings. Unfortunately, they only come as a garni on your steak at dinner but are available in a full-size serving on the late night menu. By definition onion rings are round, something you could play horseshoes with. The worse are heavily breaded and the onion comes out with your first bite. Personally, I prefer lightly breaded onion strings and the Haystack Onion Strings at the Old Fashioned are close to perfect.

Fried Calamari: Lombardino’s. I’ve squirmed over fried calamari at way too many places, here and in Italy. None is finer than the flawless fried calamari at Lombardino’s: tender, crunchy and s’amore.

Friday Fish Fry: Orpheum. Come Friday, you can have your fish almost anywhere in Wisconsin. I like the Orpheum because it keeps the spirit of the original Wisconsin fish fry alive: Lake fish that’s all you can eat (and they don’t even look at you funny when you order thirds). The fish is blue gill but what counts is that it’s beer battered and nicely fried.

Fried Sweet Potato Chips: The Continental. Something different—I love fried sweet potatoes—and served with panache, a dipping béarnaise sauce.

Fried Cheese Curds: The Old Fashioned. Only in Wisconsin would this make the list of revered fried foods. It’s no surprise that the Queen of the Deep Fryer, the Old Fashioned, would proffer a cheese curd that is way more scrumptious than most.

Chicken Fried Steak: El Dorado Grill. It you grew up in Texas (which I didn’t) this is at the top of the food pyramid. None the less, I love chicken fried streak and on a good night El Dorado’s can’t be beat.

Fried Chicken: Still waiting. Really good fried chicken is seasoned and lightly dusted with floured (never battered) and pan fried to a uniform crispy golden brown. Unfortunately, most of the restaurant fried chicken around here is deep fried and the white meat tends to be dry and the dark meat sometime slimy. So, if you don’t want to satisfy your craving at the Colonel or the Sailor Man, Kipp’s on Monroe Street is probably the best game in town right now.

Doughnuts: Greenbush Bakery. They make some really great cake donuts (so long as you don’t read the nutritional information) and they’re kosher to boot. Unfortunately, I love raised, glazed donuts and find all those sampled locally lacking. I’m not usually big on fast food but sometime I do wish we had a Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’ Donut’. Supposedly after an absence of several years, Dunkin Donuts will soon return to Madtown. Rumors have been around so long about the coming of Krispy Kreme that they now qualify as an urban myth.

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