Cooking with hot oil/making beignets
I may just be very timid in this situation because when I was nine my 13 year old cousin burned the kitchen down making tacos. She left the oil on to heat up and went outside to water the plants. Not too bright. After awhile I went into the kitchen to check on the food situation and as I turned around to leave, heard a loud WHUMP, the place was on fire.
Cut to this weekend trying to make beignets for my boyfriend. His mom made them every Saturday while he was growing up. I felt a little pressure, though I did have the Cafe Du Monde mix, that she also used. The beignets came out chewy, not really puffy. They did taste good but I think the consistency was off. His mom said the oil has to be extremely hot. I used a cast iron skillet and my candy thermometer is broken so I just sort of gauged it. The problem is that every time the oil started making that deep bubbly crackling sound, I freaked out and had to turn the heat off until it calmed down.
After this long rambling post, my questions are:
1. Is it normal for the oil to do that? How do you know when it's going to blow?
2. Anyone have any beignet making tips?
Thanks so much for any help!
While I could tell you signs that the oil is going "to blow", if you have a serious fear about this that you'd like to conquer, I'd advise you not to cook without the thermometer. It's hard to tell. Especially in a cast iron pot, where you can't really see the oil. The oil will look thin and pale, almost watery, before it blows.
In cooking school, another group came over and used one of our burners without telling us, and I thought they were boiling water. They left it unattended and it went up in flames. We "took the heat" for that one.
Anyway, along the beignet theme, I haven't tried to make them as an adult, but my mom used to make them when I was a kid. I keep meaning to ask her how she used to use a cookie cutter to make them in teddy bear shapes- their little bellies would puff out.
Did the crackly noise happen when you put the batter in the oil? if it did, that's a good sign that the oil was perfectly hot to fry. I love that crackly noise. To make you feel better - you can hear that noise at Mcdonalds when they put french fries in the fryer.
First of all, his mom is wrong! The oil does not have to be really hot. When I make beignets (or doughnuts) at my restaurant, I fry at 300 degrees F. The reason your beignets were chewy....perhaps they did not proof long enough or if your oil was too hot then the beignets would have cooked quickly on the outside and still benn undercooked on the inside. I always cut the doughnuts, then proof for another 15 or 20 minutes. Next time you do this, use a heavy steel pot with tall sides and not a shallow skillet. You don't want the oil popping all over the place. You also need a long thermometer (go get a new one and no more guessing!)for your pot of oil. You need only 2 inches or so of oil in this pot and do not get the oil hotter than 300. Once your beignets go into the oil, the temperature will quickly rise 30 or 40 degrees (heat inversion principle that I don't fully understand). The beignets need only cook for 1 minute on either side. I usually make mine about the size of a half tennis ball. Drain them on a rack for about 30 seconds then toss in cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar. Enjoy immediately!
Agree that a deep fry thermometer is essential for frying on the stove - otherwise consistent results are very difficult, and as you say if you aren't experienced you could light the oil. Still, it's a bit of a pain to keep the oil at temperature. The safest thing to do is to buy a deep fryer with a thermostat; it won't let the oil get past about 375F. The only problem is that many of them can't get the oil hot enough for certain purposes, so that can be tricky too. I just bought a Nesco 1250 which appears to be the best one; I've thrown away others.
Cast iron is great for frying, but you need a Dutch oven or other fairly deep pot, NOT a skillet. The oil has to be deep--at least 2-3 inches, so that the beignets are truly swimming in the hot oil. Get a candy thermometer--there's no real foolproof test for heat otherwise. The good news is that I've used that Cafe du Monde mix for years with great results, using a cast iron dutch oven and a thermometer. It's important to let the oil get hot enough, otherwise the dough will soak up a lot of oil and be greasy and chewy. Good luck! Also, since these beignets are baking-powder based, not yeast-based, I don't think they'd need to "proof" as suggested by another poster. Baking powder quick breads, like these, should be cooked as soon as they're mixed, to get the full power of the baking powder.
I second the recommendation of a cast iron dutchie for deep frying. Holds the heat well, and the high sides give you confidence. Plus, they're cheap. Look in the camping supplies section of a department store, and be sure not to get on with legs, if you intend to use it on the stovetop.