Fried chicken is a classic favorite. While many recipes call for shortening, you don't have to make a special store run -- or spend lots of money -- to make fried chicken at home. With a little knowledge about what vegetable oil is and how to work with it, you can use it to create beautiful, golden-brown, crunchy fried chicken your whole family will love.
Beneifts of Vegetable Oil
Though nobody would mistake fried chicken for health food, using vegetable oil is far better for you than using traditional animal-based fats such as melted lard. Animal fats, reports the American Heart Association, are full of artery-clogging saturated fats, while vegetable-based fats like vegetable oil contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which help lower your risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
One of the important considerations when making fried chicken with vegetable oil is smoke point. Vegetable oil is actually made from soybeans, and has a smoke point of 466 degrees Fahrenheit. Smoke point is the temperature at which a fat will burst into flames. Use a thermometer to ensure your oil doesn't rise above this temperature.
You don't need to invest in a large deep-fryer to make chicken with vegetable oil. Cookbook writer Alton Brown recommends pan-frying chicken in a cast-iron pan. Brown reports pan-frying, which cooks the meat one side at a time, allows moisture to escape from the cool side. This, in turn, helps keep the crust from becoming soggy, a special consideration with vegetable oil, which doesn't always brown foods as quickly as animal-based fats.
All fats can catch fire if they get too hot, but you'll need to use special caution when working with vegetable oil. Though you can use vegetable oil several times, each time you use it, its smoke point decreases. If your oil ever does catch on fire, do not throw water on it -- it will aerosolize the fat and spread flames to the adjacent walls. Smothering the flames with a lid is a better choice than sprinkling on baking soda, because you can slide the lid on from the side rather than placing your arms directly over the flames.