Pan frying is a technique that's rarely talked about in modern day cookery. These days we have air fryers and electric table top fryers that can appear to simplify the cooking process. And while simple can sometimes be better, it doesn't always offer you the best in terms of versatility, flavor and longevity. That's why I opt for the tried and true, cast iron pan.
When cooking with table top fryers, you're usually limited to fairly narrow cooking channels thatlimit you to preparing smaller proteins like shrimp, squirrel legs or chicken thighs. With cast iron, you have the option of selecting a width of pan that coincides with the length of your protein. With my Cubano Cordon Bleu cooking method, I used a wild boar loin that was about 10 inches in length. I butterflied the loin, stuffed, rolled, breaded and fried the entire thing in a 12 inch cast iron skillet. That's something that I could have never done with an everyday tabletop fryer. I use a similar technique with wild turkey breast. The breast is deboned, butterflied and fried as one large thin piece of meat. This technique makes for a great turkey parmesan or chicken fried venison steak.
Pan frying also comes with a complimentary flavor booster. While cooking inside of a deep fryer, the protein usually remains suspended in fat which is great for achieving uniform color, but doesn't add much in the flavor department. Shallow frying in a cast iron pan allows the meat to make contact with the bottom of the pan. This contact with a heavy bottomed cast iron skillet gives the breading deeper brown hues with a slight char. It's the way most of our grandparents fried chicken in the Southern United States for decades. With the final product, you have a crust flavor profile of light and dark browns, along with a mild char. This gives you 3 different flavors just by using a single pan.
It's no surprise that cast iron is known for its durability. But I think it should be reiterated when comparing these classic metal beasts to the modern tabletop fryer. Modern household electric fryers usually contain a fair amount of plastic exterior parts. Cast iron has zero plastics and even gives you the option of frying with a metal or glass lid without fear of melting parts or leaching harmful chemicals into your food. When cooking with a tabletop fryer, hot oil splatters and lands onto the machine's plastic. If designed poorly, this hot oil which is now likely infused with plastic chemicals, runs right back into the main frying compartment. If that's not enough, you now have the job of trying to meticulously clean all of the nooks and crannies that are filled with oil and food bits.
At the end of the day, pan frying in cast iron skillets is the way to go for me. The pans are often cheaper and their unremarkable durability allows them to be passed down from generation to generation. They are more versatile while yielding superior flavor, with the work being done by the pan itself. And for some, this is the most important part; The cleanup takes less than half the time of a table top fryer. And if you're low on space in your kitchen like me, the skillets can be stored right in your oven when not in use.
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