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Equipment

I Hate Deep Frying. The Wok Changed My Mind.

How I learned to love frying at home, and saved a bunch of oil, too.

Deep frying was something I’d never, ever (ever!) do at home. It makes a mess. It calls for quarts of oil. It’s just not worth the bother.

Sure, I love fried chicken, homemade french fries, crispy onion rings, and fresh doughnuts as much as the next person, but I never cooked them in my own kitchen. 

Then I met Grace Young, expert on Chinese cooking and author of essential tomes of Chinese gastronomy, such as Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge and The Breath of a Wok. She mentioned deep frying is far easier in a wok. What’s more, she added, it’s a great way to accelerate the seasoning of your wok, especially if it’s made of carbon steel. With my recently purchased carbon-steel wok, I figured I’d give it a try.

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I decided to start very small: A handful of potato chips to go with burgers for dinner. I poured just two cups of vegetable oil (our test kitchen recipe calls for two quarts!) into the comparatively narrow, flat bottom of my wok, which gave me a pool about an inch deep and nine inches wide at the top. I grabbed two russet potatoes, slicing them on my mandoline and patting the slices dry with paper towels. I turned on the heat and within minutes the oil in the wok was good and hot. I slipped a few slices of potato in and stood by with tongs and a spider skimmer, turning the oven to warm and setting a rimmed baking sheet with a wire cooling rack inside to hold and drain the chips as I cooked in batches.

The chips soon turned golden brown, and I flipped them to finish cooking on the other side, then scooped them out onto a plate and transferred them onto the wire rack in the oven. I repeated this process, dealing the flat white potato slices into the oil like playing cards, and watching them arch and turn a beautiful shade of gold. It was kind of fun, honestly.

And then, the surprising part: That pair of medium-sized potatoes bloomed into a veritable mountain of golden chips, heaped tall on that half-size sheet pan. They accumulated fast; the whole process went steadily but quickly—the high sides of the wok contained most of the splatters—and it was surprisingly relaxing. 

A big sprinkle of salt on top, and those crisp, delicious chips were ready faster than the burgers. My family devoured them. 

Since that first happy experience, I’ve kept up deep frying in the wok, making dishes like fried chicken karaage, and lots more kettle chips. I’m still not opening a snack bar anytime soon, but deep frying is no longer a big, messy deal. And my wok has become gorgeously nonstick, too. Thanks, Grace!

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Photo: Promo Link, Getty Images