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What Is Shallow Frying?

By Donna Tinus
Updated May 16, 2024
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Shallow frying is a cooking technique that involves cooking in oil, generally in a frying pan. It is usually used to cook small pieces of meat or fish that are generally covered in flour, or some type of batter. Flat patties, such as potato pancakes are also shallow fried in cooking oil. The oil is usually heated to a medium-high temperature to promote quick cooking and browning. Shallow frying requires skill and attention to ensure the dish will be crispy and juicy, but not greasy.

In shallow frying, the pan is filled two-thirds of the way with oil so that the food will be only partly submerged. The item will need to be turned to ensure both sides are cooked evenly. The presentation side of the food should be submerged first, since this is the side that will be browned the most. The browning of the food is called a Maillard reaction in cooking terms.

Cooking oils, such as corn, canola, vegetable, or sunflower, are used in shallow frying. These oils have a high smoke point, meaning they can withstand high heat before they will burn. Butter has a low smoke point and should never be used with deep or shallow frying techniques. Shortening is also a good choice for shallow frying and is often used for frying chicken.

After bringing the temperature of the oil up, then submerging the food, it is important that the temperature of the oil remain constant. The food should not be over crowded in the pan, or the temperature may be reduced too low, causing the food to cook slowly. The end result of over crowding is soggy and greasy food. A deep-fry thermometer is helpful in monitoring the temperature, so the cook knows when to allow the temperature to rise between batches.

Quick cooking with shallow frying leaves food with its soluble nutrients intact, although this method can reduce the antioxidant values of some vegetables. Some studies have shown an increase in the antioxidant content of cooked carrots, peppers, potatoes, and broccoli. This conflict in data from various studies demonstrates the need for more information before a conclusion can be made regarding the effect of heat on food. Experts generally agree excessive oil in any fried foods can negatively affect the circulatory system, often contributing to heart disease.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon1004832 — On Apr 26, 2021

What do these techniques means in shallow frying? 1.Proving 2.Tossing 3.Turning 4.Holding for service

By Wisedly33 — On Jul 22, 2014

@Scrbblchick -- My grandmother used to make hot water cornbread! We loved it. She put onion in hers so it always turned out a little like a hushpuppy.

Shallow frying is an easier sell than deep frying, for sure. Any good cast iron skillet will do for it and I find it easier to maintain the oil temperature, as long as I'm keeping an eye on it. It's easier to bring it up to temperature or bring it down. It takes a while for deep frying, unless you have an electric fryer, which I recommend. Do they still sell Fry Daddys?

By Scrbblchick — On Jul 21, 2014

Shallow frying is the method of choice for cooking hot water cornbread, which needs to be fried rather than baked. You have to be careful not to make the batter too thick though, or the cornbread won't cook through before it gets too brown on the outside.

Hot water cornbread is a good way for a cook to make cornbread if he or she isn't sure about doing it in the oven. It's easy enough either way, but the hot water kind is quicker and doesn't require eggs or milk, although I do use a little half and half in mine. Good stuff!

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