Fried okra with pickle aioli
Chicken, okra and even Oreos—we'll fry just about anything in the South. Why not celebrate this beloved part of our cuisine by throwing a party dedicated to all things crisply cooked in hot oil?
Dedicated "fry-day" parties are fun, convivial and allow for lots of experimentation. Yes, you may walk away smelling like fryer oil, but we say embrace it: Wear old clothes and get ready to feast!
Here's how to pull it off, step by step:
Choose a few easy recipes and practice first
It's far better to pick a few easy and crowd-pleasing recipes to cook than to plot out the craziest and most inventive fried dishes when you're entertaining, especially if this is your first fry-day party. This is, in fact, a great general rule for any dinner party, even one that doesn't go near a deep fryer. You'll have plenty to do already, between cooking, chatting and eating; you don't want to be worried that your deep-fried homemade Twinkies are going to explode.
And — this is even more important — practice first. Make sure you know the ins and outs of your fryer set-up before guests walk in the door. It'll be much easier and less stressful to ensure your shrimp are tender and your breadings are crisp if you've done it before.
Here are a few great easy recipe ideas to get you started:
Make a fryer schedule
Frying is often quick and easy, but it does require near-constant attention when the oil's bubbling. To best enjoy yourself, planning is a necessity. We like to write out a cooking schedule before even setting foot in the grocery store.
Recipe order is crucial. If you're only frying in one vessel, you'll want to order your dishes from the least messy and least stinky first, to the sloppiest, goopiest dishes last. Lightly breaded or unbreaded vegetables (like potato chips) can come first, as they won't leave much of a trace behind in the oil. Battered seafood should generally come last, as it tends to make fryer oil taste fishy and it can leave behind globs of fried knick-knacks in the bottom of the pot. Even better is to plan to have two (or even three) fryer vessels going at once. If you've got a dedicated countertop fryer, use it.
Make marinades, breadings and sauces ahead of time, and keep them simple
Almost anything you'll coat your ingredients in can be made well in advance of a fry-day party. Cornmeal breadings, for example, can be made in bulk, and readied for any and all seafood. The same goes for buttermilk marinades. Tempura-style batters that include leaveners and carbonated liquids will, however, need to be made a la minute.
The best strategy, however, is to remember to K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple (we'll stick to our Southern manners and leave that last "s" alone). Consider making only one marinade and one breading mixture in which everything can be coated. This leaves room for last minute improvisation (see the next tip), and will save you the effort involved in making speciality breadings, not to mention the need for all those extra bowls.
Similiarly, you can make any and all dipping sauces far in advance of your party. Some even get better with an overnight rest in the fridge.
Need ideas? These are a few of our favorite dips:
Ask guests to bring one experimental item to fry
To add an entertainment factor to your fry-day party, consider asking your guests to bring additional items to drop into the hot oil. These can be anything from the aforementioned Oreos to even things like sandwiches and hamburgers. (Note: I have tried a deep-fried Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich and only kind of regretted it.)
It'll run most smoothly if you plan out a dedicated frying vessel for experiments and set out a breading station ahead of time. Or, if this is too frightening, add one unique fried dish to your personal cooking list.
Here are a few ideas:
Fried Dill Pickles with Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
Fried Chocolate Pies with Toffee Sauce
Make a couple of easy and palate-cleansing side dishes
You and your guests aren't likely going to want to eat only fried foods at your party. Throw in a few refreshing side dishes to nibble on, in between handfuls of fried okra. We like anything with a touch of acid, such as salads made with citrus fruits, or dishes full of crunchy vegetables, such as coleslaw. But don't spend too much time worrying about sides – quick and easy is the name of the game here. These are some of our favorite fry-friendly sides:
Strawberry-Spinach Salad with Pecans and Blue Cheese
Coleslaw with Sweet and Sour Creamy Dressing
Country Ham and Peach Bites
Photo Credit (Fried Shrimp): Maura Friedman
Photo Credit (Srirancha Sauce): Maura Friedman
Photo Credit (Fried Pickles): Ramona King
Photo Credit (Spinach Salad): Ramona King