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Dumb pan-frying question: Why does my oil turn brown?

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Here's what happens when someone tries to teach herself to cook -- she misses out on some important step that everyone else seems to know.

I was making my mother's chicken tenders. Take chicken, dip in egg, coat with Italian breadcrumbs, fry in pan in oil. I used olive oil, extra virgin, about an eighth of an inch. I guess more oil than a saute, less than a fry? I dunno. Medium-high to medium heat.

Anyway, after the first batch, whicih came out great (I had a bunch of chicken to do), the second and subsequent batches always turn out burnt. It's not that I'm cooking them too long -- the chicken isn't done inside. How do I keep the oil from getting burnt so my second batch of tenders looks like my first?

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  1. Don't use olive oil if you don't want it to burn. It has a low smoke point. Many will recommend other vegetable oils (which I prefer not to use), but I would recommend trying coconut oil.

    2 Replies
    1. re: pescatarian

      I usually just use vegetable oil, but I didn't have enough on hand. I still had the problem with that, but maybe my heat was too high.

      1. re: Covert Ops

        I find that when I use vegetable oil, I have to lower it after it initially heats up to keep it at a medium temp and in between batches, I need to clean the pan a little with paper towel and add more oil. Olive oil will definitely burn faster though.

    2. Not a dumb question at all.

      Probably what happened was that the oil just got too hot after the first batch. Try turning down the heat toward the end of the first batch to @ medium or even medium low. If it looks like the chicken isn't cooking quickly enough, as you go through that second batch, you can always turn it back up a bit.

      I once had a gas stove with a temperature gauge on one of the burners and, while it wasn't perfect, it did do a pretty good job of keeping the temperature at an even level.

      1. Keep the amount of oil lower, as you will have to wipe out the pan with a dry paper towel
        every 2-3 batches. And yes, I use vegetable oil in frying also, but never tried coconut before. I use generic from the grocer.

        1. You have the pan too hot. The first batch is just hot enough, and for later batches too hot, burns the crust, undercooks the inside. Moderate the temp of pan as you cook. I throw in a bit of crumbs to oil before each batch to see if hot enough or over hot.

          1. all good suggestions above - I would add that peanut oil has a high smoke point. For the first few times you do it, you could try using a candy thermometer to make the temp is where you want it (maybe about 325-350?)

            1. Do this all the time and had the same issue until solved. Many have hit the nail on the head on the heat being too high and there is another reason as well (down below).

              If the cutlets/fingers are too thick you first need to flatten with a mallet to get under half inch thick, then do your crumb stuff.

              Then heat for your first batch. To test when I think its rwady i place a few bread crumbs into the oil. If they begin to cook, yup it's ready, if not i wait. The oil should come about 1/3 the way up the chicken tenders.

              I also always turn down the heat after batch number 1. Likewise, in between batches I add some more evoo which tends to "cool" the leftover oil. In addition, some of the coating will come off during the early batches and need to come out of the pan.

              Remember you are not trying to sear the chicken you are cooking over moderate heat so it is crispy and brown outside and cooked through inside.

              1. Aside from the possiblities of temperature and type of oil, the bread crumbs themselves are falling off of the chicken tenders and burning.

                When you've breaded your chicken tenders, tap them lightly to remove excess bread crumbs. And after every batch or two, either stain the oil using a fine mesh sieve or replace the oil entirely. Be sure to wipe the bottom of the pan with paper towelling.

                Another option would be to quickly brown the chicken tenders in the pan, then remove them to a hot baking sheet in the oven to finish cooking.