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Debra Caffrey is the Education E-newsletter Editor for FredParent. She also writes, blogs, and assists with events. She is the proud mom of 8-year-old Aidan. She is passionate about cooking, meal planning, and smart grocery shopping, and is excited to share her ‘Practical Pantry’ with you.

 

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Practical Pantry

I must have ordered the Fried Tempura Chicken salad at one of my favorite local restaurants at least fifty times. And that’s saying a lot, because I actually rarely go out to eat! Once I tasted the way the salty, savory lightly-fried chicken pieces paired with its crunchy, crispy salad components, all melding together with a delicious tangy dressing, I was hooked! I’ve never ordered anything else from there - never even thought about doing so - because that salad is just amazing!


But as you might be learning, I also love to save money by not going out to eat too much, and I just completely love trying to replicate meals at restaurants at home. Yes, I certainly have a thing for DIY menu items! So I have been making my own version of this salad for a few years now, and while it can’t compare to the restaurant’s original, it’s delicious and comprehensive all the same!


I think some home cooks may be afraid when they hear the word “fry,” for both health and technique reasons. But let me reassure you that a little frying can be OK as part of a regular diet and it isn’t hard to do! Here’s why:


• It’s all about balance, isn’t it? If you're having a fried item, be mindful to pair it with fresh, wholesome components to make the meal. My tempura fried chicken sits atop fresh and nutritious mixed greens, tomatoes, carrots, and jicama (which, by the way, if you've never heard of or tried, you must! It's loaded with nutrients and adds a marvelous sweet crunch to any salad or slaw)!

• Since you are doing frying, you get to control the amount of oil used as well as the type of oil. I prefer to use vegetable oil, but oils such as peanut, canola, sunflower, and extra virgin olive oil are good sources of unsaturated fats. You also get to control how well you “drain” the fried item on paper towels to soak up excess oil afterwards, something that may not be done as thoroughly at restaurants.

• You don’t need a fancy or expensive, separate kitchen apparatus to deep fry. You can use a large skillet, a Dutch oven, or my personal favorite – a wok! It’s easy and doesn’t require additional tools.

• You can reuse your frying oil by letting it cool and using a funnel to pour it into a clean jar and storing in the fridge. This ultimately will lessen the cost, as oil can be a pricy item.


If I’ve intrigued you to trying some deep frying, here’s how I achieve my tempura chicken by frying at home in just a few easy steps. You can apply the same basic technique to anything!

 

1) Prepare your frying station. Get your wok or fryer ready, line a nearby countertop with paper towels for draining, and be sure to have a large, slotted spatula as well.


2) Pour about a quart of oil into the wok first, then heat on medium-high. In order to make sure your food is cooked through and to achieve a crispy coating, it’s important to make sure your oil is hot enough. Don’t be intimidated by this factor! You don’t need a special type of thermometer. My trick: when you think your oil has had a few minutes to heat up, run your fingers under some water and “flick” your wet fingers over the oil. It’s ready if the water that you’ve flicked in makes the oil bubble a lot and get noisy. If not, try again in a few minutes. Remembering that cooking is mostly about instinct will help you relax about technique!


3) Carefully drop a few pieces of the chicken (just toss chicken tenders or small pieces and about a cup of tempura mix into a Ziploc bag and shake until lightly coated) into the oil. The pieces will rise to the top. Allow to continue frying for several minutes as you gently turn the pieces over a few times with the spatula. Fry until medium-brown, then lift carefully and drain well on paper towels. (If you fear you haven’t cooked your chicken through, you can always cut a piece open and check for doneness). Remember, if your oil isn’t hot enough, your items will not cook, and you will not achieve a good crust!


4) Finally, season your fried chicken with a little bit of salt after draining.

That’s it! So if you’ve ever been intimidated by the thought of deep frying at home before, please don’t be. It’s super easy and can add a delicious component to your home repertoire. Read on to see how I build my Fried Tempura Chicken Salad. And good luck frying!

 

Debra’s Crispy Tempura Chicken Salad

Tempura fried chicken pieces (see above) + mixed salad greens of your choice + diced plum tomatoes + shaved or finely julienned carrots + jicama, cut into matchstick-sized slices + your favorite dressing (Ranch or honey mustard is a perfect match).
Don’t forget a few slices of crusty bread on the side and you’ve got yourself a delicious, well-rounded restaurant-worthy meal!

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Pouches is ready to kayak on the beautiful Rappahannock River. She’s also ready to learn more about how she can protect the river’s health using the Friends of the Rappahannock new River Report Card, sponsored by a surprise grant from the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region (CFRRR).

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