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If I'm deep-frying foods and want to hold batches of them so I can serve a large amount all at once, or even prepare a couple hours ahead, what's the best way to hold them until ready to serve?

Should I put them on wire racks above a drip pan, or should I place them on paper towels? Or even in a paper cone?

Should I keep them warm or should I let them cool and reheat them in a very hot oven (450F)?

Or does it depend on the type of food, its shape, or the batter?

What I'm looking for here is someone who's done some comparison testing between different methods of holding over deep-fried foods. Some example foods: garlic & pepper shrimp, tempura vegetables, latkes, felafel, and french fries.

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I can't imagine that a hot oven would be the right answer - the food would continue to cook at that temperature and would be inedible after a few hours. –  Aaronut Jan 10 '12 at 14:43
    
By "reheat in a really hot oven" I meant for 5-10 minutes, not for long enough to cook. –  FuzzyChef Jan 10 '12 at 18:02
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6 Answers 6

I usually fry ahead (I don't like the mess or the smell), then let it cool. When guests start to arrive I warm up on plate at 225 degrees for 15 to 25 minutes and remove. Comes out fine. I don't believe in serving fried food piping hot. Hope this helps.

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I prefer to pat them quickly on a paper towel to absorb excess oil and then put them on a wire rack over a sheet pan in the oven on it's lowest setting to stay warm. I think the answer to your question really depends on what your cooking though. The batter IMO makes a big difference. If your working with breading i think it generally stays fairly crisp in a low oven for a while but for something that is more batter-like (i.e. frito misto, tempura, fried fish) i find that it gets soggy no matter what I do to keep it warm since the point of a batter is to get as many bubbles as possible to make it airy and crispy.

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I haven't tested all of the methods you mentioned, but from my experience, there is some variation depending on the type of fried food you're making.

For latkes and falafel, I find that they turn out best if I fry them, place on a wire rack over drip tray or on a layer of paper towels, let excess oil run off for a few minutes, and then transfer to a low oven (100-150 F) to stay warm while I cook the rest. This works well for batches of dozens, but it probably not streamlined enough if you're making them by the hundreds (though it might work if you had help). Additionally, it depends on your hold time; I wouldn't do this if I needed to hold them for more than 45-60 minutes.

For vegetables (pakora is what I'm familiar with, which is similar to tempura but made with gram flour), I'd go with Jay's method. I actually double-fry them even if serving/consuming them immediately because I like that the second fry makes the veggies crispier, but par-frying, holding, and refrying is effective and scales well.

I would stay away from any method that lets the fully cooked food cool completely, so reheating in a hot oven is out. The only food I've managed to hold that way and not have it result in a gross consistency is a cornmeal-battered fried cod. Anything else retains a pretty unappealing mushiness.

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The best and freshest/crisp method, would be the one Jay describes. Par-fry, refrigerate, and fry or bake to proper doneness. Freezing before frying is good only if you need your product to set correctly, i.e. breading mac n' cheese balls.

The only way to serve a large quantity hot and crisp all at once is to invest in mulitple friers. Otherwise, batch cooking is you're only option. That's why restaurants have designated fry cooks. Sorry, It's time consuming.

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The method I used in the past (which might not be the best way) is to lightly fry the food initially, drain it of all oils, and put it in the refridgerator until it is almost time to serve the large amount of food. Then you can finish deep frying the batches. The initial frying will dramatically reduce the time it takes to refry each batch. I found this was the best solution for myself as I was able to serve hot and (almost)fresh out of the deep fryer food to a large group of people at lot faster. I think the result is way better than if you had to store the fully deep fried food for 2 hours and had to reheat it up somehow.

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Well, the absolute best way to keep deep fried foods is to deep freeze them BEFORE you deep fry them, than unfreeze and deep-fry away as you wish.

Out of my personal experience, you can't freeze or refrigerate deep fried foods after they have been fried - they loose their crisp or even become inedible. deep fried foods should be eaten straight after they have been fried! there's nothing more disappointing than eating a dry falafel ball (dry, cuz it was deep fried 2 hours ago...) or a shrimp tempura with rubber-like texture to it.

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This doesn't answer his question which is asking how to cook/serve a large amount of deep fried goods at once. –  Jay Jan 10 '12 at 15:15
    
Useful advice, but I wasn't asking about freezing or refrigeration. Just holding them for an hour or two. –  FuzzyChef Jan 10 '12 at 18:01
    
oh, sorry than i misunderstood you completely! sorry :-) –  Talbatz Jan 10 '12 at 18:26
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