Whether it’s chicken, fish, shrimp or mozzarella sticks, consumers universally expect the same out of fried items. We fry foods specifically to retain their moist or juicy insides and (most importantly) to add that crunchy, golden delicious outside.
Perfecting the right “crunch” for every item can sometimes take constant experimentation, so it’s understandable that operators might be hesitant to use a holding cabinet if they think it will diminish the quality of their prized fried concoctions. But will it?
Yes, holding fried items can be a bit trickier, but they can be successfully held. In fact, a holding program may be more crucial than some operators realize, especially for fried items. By establishing a proper holding program, operators can eliminate consistency issues and improve flow of service. Once the ideal holding time and humidity levels have been established for a product, it can all but be assured that every customer will receive the same quality item, always.
To help find that holding sweet spot for fried foods, we wanted to offer a few tips to operators that should inspire confidence in maintaining the perfect crunch even after some time in the holding cabinet.
Tip 1: Hold High
We find that too many operators, in fear of drying out their food, err on the side of lower holding temperatures when in fact, the opposite should be practiced. A higher temperature hold creates more available moisture, also known as the juices in meat products. Following the initial cooking of the meat, at rest, those juices will settle out. Worse yet, if the temperature drops too low then the taste and appearance become more of the day-old variety, rather than warm, crisp and juicy. It won’t be dry, but it will lose palatability.
By holding at a higher temperature, operators can increase the overall holding time of that item. For those that are holding fried chicken at 145oF, try holding instead somewhere in the range of 165-185oF. This will work for a variety of other proteins, such as large roasts of pork and beef, BBQ and roasted poultry like chicken or turkey.
Tip 2: Know Your Hold
Know which items hold easier than others and which can sustain longer holds while maintaining quality. For instance:
-Breaded items hold better than battered items
-Bone-in items produce a better hold than boneless items
-Large items hold easier and better than smaller items
-Softer fried items hold longer than hard, crispy fried items
Tip 3: Think Ahead
Holding shouldn’t come as an after-thought. In fact, operators that utilize holding best, factor it into the overall recipe. The quality and flavor of the item should be considered final only after it has been through its allotted hold. This may mean trying different types of flours to understand what holds and tastes best when it is eventually served. For instance, operators may find that alternatives like rice flour or potato starch, in certain applications, may yield a crispier and tastier product than wheat flour after a designated hold period.
Tip 4: Yes, Equipment Matters
There are several levels of holding cabinet options available to operators, and in most cases, you get what you pay for:
Option 1: The most basic cabinets provide one heat source and will keep your food warm but that’s about it. With no way to increase or decrease the available humidity, these are not a viable option for fried foods.
Option 2: These units are a basic cabinet with the addition of a passive water pan. These will offer a heat and a water source, giving you the ability to create steam. This is definitely a step up, but operators are given little in the way of environmental control.
Option 3: Humidified cabinets come with a dedicated heat source for the cabinet and a water pan with its own dedicated heat source, giving operators the ability to individually fine-tune heat and humidity levels. However, this will rely on constant operator observation and adjustments.
Option 4: Fully automatic cabinets are based on a closed loop system that automatically checks and adjusts moisture and temperature levels to turn out the exact same product time and time again. Once the best hold specifications for each item have been determined, all that’s left to do is set it and forget it.
Holding fried items may feel like a recipe for disaster to some, and done without the right knowledge or tools, it may be. However, if holding is instilled in an operation as a standard procedure, where temperature and humidity levels are always programmed and accurate — made possible by design and technology — the holding cabinet may become the unlikely hero of your frying program.