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Pan frying is a method of cooking food in a frying pan on a stove top or in an electric skillet or wok. Oil is used in this method, but it is still considered a dry heat one because the food to be fried is only partially covered in cooking oil. Pan frying differs from deep frying in that the food is not actually floating in oil. The oil reaches only half the height of the food or less. Since the food also touches the bottom of the frying pan or electric skillet or wok, surface browning and crispness occur.
The steam created from the hot oil in the pan helps to cook the food inside while the outsides brown. Without the presence of steam, pan fried foods would just taste greasy and be soggy rather than crispy. Care must be taken to keep the cooking oil hot enough.
If the temperature of the oil drops too much, the amount of steam produced may not be enough to brown or crisp the food. Yet, if the temperature of the cooking oil is too high in pan frying the outsides may cook too quickly and the inside of the food may be too dry. The ideal temperature range for cooking oil in pan frying is often said to be between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit (177 - 191 degrees Celsius). However, the temperature of the oil is difficult to measure, since the oil level is not supposed to be very deep. Electric skillets usually have a temperature gauge so that you can see if the temperature of the oil goes up or down.
There are a few ways to maintain a steady temperature when pan frying. First, remember to never fry too much food at once as this can reduce the temperature. Instead cook in smaller batches. Second, start with room temperature rather than refrigerated or frozen ingredients. Be sure to keep food safety in mind and don't leave perishables such as fresh meat or fish sitting out for long periods of time; instead allow meats and fish to sit out just enough to reach room temperature.
Thin, tender cuts of meat usually work best for pan frying, but thicker steaks may also be delicious when pan-fried. Chicken and fish are often breaded by coating pieces in a batter or breadcrumbs before frying. Shrimp, vegetables and bite-sized pieces of meat and poultry may also be pan fried such as in a Chinese wok in a stir fry or in a frying pan or electric skillet.