Frying in America
June 8, 2012
By: Chef Beau Guthrie, VP of Culinary Services
As someone who works for a company that specializes in batters and breadings, I spend a lot of time tasting and evaluating fried food. From beer battered fish to panko breaded apple wedges we evaluate products on taste, texture and visual appearance. Yet, there are few times we ever think about where this technique that delights not only Americans, but people the world over, actually came from. There are few sensory experiences that rival that first bite of properly fried chicken. The crunch, of the perfectly seasoned coating, immediately followed by the succulent meat of the brined or marinated bird is quite intoxicating. Controversy surrounds the origin of the first fried foods. Many believe that ancient Egypt was the first civilization to fry food, and others believe the cooking process was discovered in Mesopotamia. Either way, for Americans it came via the Columbian Exchange.
The Columbian Exchange is the concept of items and ideas transferred between the “old” and “new” “worlds” after Columbus’ discovery of America. In the southern U.S., Caribbean, and Brazil, deep frying is generally thought of being brought around the world by the Portuguese from their colonization of Africa. The African’s brought to the new world via the slave trade were big on frying, and this is why throughout the Americas you see frying as a common practice in areas within areas popular with the slave trade. The Portuguese also brought this technique to Japan now recognized as tempura and katsu, circa the 16th century.
During the British colonial period frying became quite popular in the colonies, and was considered quite mainstream long before the civil war. In 1866 Harper’s magazine published a story that stated Americans consumed too much fried food. That story obviously has had very little effect on American’s desire for deep fried foods. I travel quite a bit, across the country, and the one consistent thing I see on menus of all cuisines are fried foods. With quick pick up times, and high popularity, it is doubtful fried food will be disappearing from menus anytime soon. The important thing to remember is fried food is a treat and not something you should base your caloric intake on.