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A lot of frozen, convenience foods are foods that are traditionally fried can be prepared by baking. I'm thinking of, fish sticks, french fries, tator tots, jalapeño poppers, etc.

I'm lousy at deep frying. I don't want to buy a fryer because I don't do it enough to make an expensive bulky appliance worthwhile. When frying in a pan I don't like monitoring the temperature of my oil. My food, therefore, comes out much more oily than it should. I also don't like cleaning and storing a gallon of frying oil.

I know that these foods are different when baked rather than fried. However, my homemade french fries are much worse baked than commercial versions.

How can I make jalapeño poppers at home that can be baked like commercial frozen products?

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How are your homemade fries worse than the commercial versions? Are they soggy? Taste bad? –  Martha F. May 9 '11 at 16:40
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The flavor is ok but they just don't get as crispy. Breaded foods, in particular, stay soft and bready instead of become crisp. –  Sobachatina May 9 '11 at 16:43
    
Conventional oven or convection? Deep-frying is essentially a form of convection, so you won't get such good results with a conventional oven. –  Aaronut May 9 '11 at 17:00
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FYI, a lot of those frozen convenience foods are fried at the food plant before they freeze them. So you're actually re-frying them, or reheating already fried food. –  derobert Feb 9 '12 at 16:55

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I would recommend borrowing from the principles found in this post, which details how to "fry" chicken in a kettle grill: Kettle Fried Chicken.

Two key takeaways here: 1) high heat, and 2) all (or nearly all) your food's surface area is exposed to heated air. You'll just replace "kettle" with "oven," and put something under the rack on which you're cooking your food to catch the stuff that drips away from it, and you should be good to go. It may require some experimentation to find the right mix of time and temperature for the food item you wish to cook, but it shouldn't take more than a few attempts to get it right, if not the first one.

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The link is dead. –  Evgeni Sergeev Aug 24 at 8:33
    
Apart from the high heat, this article recommends (1) Breading, i.e. covering in alternating layers of flour (or cornstarch etc.) and some fluid such as egg white or oil, for two or three layers of flour/cornstarch in total, and (2) Oiling the outer surface. –  Evgeni Sergeev Aug 24 at 9:17
    
Thanks for identifying the broken link. It is fixed now. –  Sean Hart Aug 26 at 15:06

You can bake a great many fried things without changing the recipe at all. Take jalapeño poppers for example. My typical jalapeño popper recipe is as follows:

  1. Halve and deseed some jalapeño peppers
  2. Fill with cream cheese
  3. Dip in egg
  4. Dredge in breadcrumbs (panko or italian seasoned)
  5. Freeze for at least 30 mins
  6. Deep fry until golden brown

Step 5 is important when deep frying something with a cheesy or otherwise gooey filling. If you were to deep fry room temperature cream cheese it would liquify nearly instantly and likely leak out into your oil, making a giant stinky mess. A similar thing happens when deep frying room temperature Snickers or Mars bars.

By starting with a frozen cheese, it will get just hot enough to melt but still have structure.

To translate this step to baking step 5 simply becomes optional. You could bake these at around 325 F (160 C) until golden brown (probably 10-15 mins or so?) without freezing. The oven will be a much gentler heat, and if you do get a little cheese leakage, it won't be that bad. If you froze them then you'd simply bake them longer (probably 25-30?).


So how does this apply to other typically fried things? I think it all comes down to the breading. If it requires a wet breading then it's not going to translate well to baking. e.g. deep fried snickers

The best breading to translate well to baking is a simple egg (maybe a bit of milk) dunk and a dredge through some bread crumbs. I think the important factor here is that, besides the egg, the breading is already cooked. So whether baking or frying you're really just heating up the food.

Wet batters containing raw flour, on the other hand, need to be cooked. The frying process nearly instantly steams all of the moisture out of the wet batter causing a fluffy fried shell. This reaction cannot occur in a baking environment, plus your batter would pool on the bottom of your pan.


This should translate well to the other things you mention, but I'm not so sure about fries. I could be wrong here (I don't buy frozen fries), but I believe that frozen fries are already partially pre-cooked in some manner. I'm not sure whether it's a partial fry or a par-boil, but I don't think they're completely raw. Same thing goes for tater tots.

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"A similar thing happens when deep frying room temperature Snickers or Mars bars" - you're Scottish, aren't you? :-) –  Rory Alsop May 9 '11 at 17:18
    
@Rory: Nope, just a hungry American! I've only had the Snickers version. We don't have Mars over here anymore. –  hobodave May 9 '11 at 17:50

Breaded items have to be fried, period.

Potatoes are a different matter. You can make oven fries pretty easily - use enough fat so that each piece is generously coated, use a pan that's big enough to spread them out without crowding, and bake at 400 F or so.

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A lot of convenience foods have instructions for baking or grilling instead of frying. Even potato wedges. Maybe you can look at the packaging on different brands to get an idea of what's possible?

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Some considerations when trying to convert from deep-fried to baked:

  • Batter-dipped items don't work. You'll need to convert to a breading, instead.
  • If it's not coated, you often still need some oil; either toss in a bowl with oil before hand, or spray with an oil mister.
  • Airflow is very important; set items on a wire rack, and make sure that there is plenty of space in between so they don't steam each other. If you have convection oven, turn on the fan; if you don't, you may want to open the oven a few times to let steam escape.
  • Oil holds a lot more heat than air. You may need to par-cook items so they cook through fully before the outside / coating browns. (and oven cooking is much slower).

And one trick:

  • for relatively flat items (eg, egplant slices), pre-heat your sheet pan, then set the items (coated in oil, or breaded) onto the hot sheet, then toss it in the pre-heated oven. (I think I got this trick from America's Test Kitchen ... you could also sauté in an oven-safe pan, then finish it in the oven)

You'll have to play around with it ... some items do better partially cooked, then breaded and finished in the oven; some are better started at high heat to partially brown, then finished at low heat; others are better started at low heat, then finished at high heat or under the broiler.

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