Hey! This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.
Frying food is one way to ensure a super decadent, tasty, addictive, and sometimes crispy eating experience. The guilty pleasure of many of us, fried food is a completely moreish treat. But how can we achieve this result at home without the hassle of using a deep fryer?
The frying pan is the answer. Whether it’s chicken, veggies, or even grains, pan-frying is a great method to turn to when you need that fried flavor.
There are a few different methods of frying food in a pan, each is great for different kinds of foods and dishes. You have your shallow frying, your pan-frying or sauteing, and your very low-oil pan frying.
Read on for some simple but effective tips on how to fry food in a pan.
Table of Contents
The shallow fry method
Best for: dumplings, chicken, fish, tofu, halloumi
Some people may consider shallow frying and sauteing to be the same thing. But they are different. Shallow frying is when you allow larger pieces of food to fry in a generously oiled pan, without tossing or stirring, leaving them to become golden on both sides. Sauteing is when you cook small pieces of food in a lightly oiled pan, and stir them as they cook. But more on that later! Let’s focus on shallow frying.
You would turn to shallow frying if you wanted to get some chicken thighs crispy and golden without deep frying. You would shallow fry dumplings to get that classic, golden “potsticker” bottom. Crumbed fresh fish is also a fantastic food for shallow frying, as it becomes crispy and golden without becoming too fatty.
- Shallow frying still requires a generous amount of oil. Not as much as deep frying, of course, but enough to get a good sizzle going.
- With your chosen oil, coat the bottom of your frying pan. You don’t want the oil to raise up the sides of the pan, but you do want the bottom to be completely coated.
- Place the pan over medium-high heat and wait for it to heat up. When you think the pan might be hot enough, test it out. Take a little bit of what you are cooking and drop it into the pan. If it just sits in the oil with no sizzle at all, it’s not hot enough. If you add your food to oil that is too cold, the food will just soak it up and you’ll have an oily mess.
- If your test piece spits and becomes dark and smoky instantly, the oil is too hot and you’ll burn the outside of your food without cooking the inside.
- If the test piece sizzles away but not too furiously, the oil is ready. It’s pretty instinctual, you will be able to tell!
- Place your pieces of prepped food into the pan, using tongs. Don’t overcrowd the pan as you risk an uneven result. Leave the food to become golden on one side, before turning to cook the other side. Simply lift a piece up with your tongs and have a peek to see if it’s ready to be turned.
- Transfer your shallow-fried food onto a paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Done!
The saute method
Best for: chopped veggies, smaller pieces of meat, grains such as rice, quinoa, barley, and buckwheat
Sauteing is when you add smaller pieces of veggies, meat, or grains to a hot, oiled pan and toss them as they cook. It’s a fast and easy way to fry food without too much oil, but you can still achieve that hot, fried, and sometimes charred flavor.
- Drizzle your chosen oil into your frying pan. Don’t coat the pan, you just need enough to give your ingredients a bit of lubrication as they cook and toss. A good “squiggle” of oil into the pan is enough at first, you can always add more later.
- Place the pan over medium-high heat and wait for it to get nice and hot. Getting the temperature right isn’t as crucial for sauteing as it is for shallow frying as the food is moving as opposed to just sitting there. Pop a piece of your prepped food into the pan, if it sizzles, you’re ready to go.
- Add the ingredients to the pan and move them with your wooden spoon as they cook. You can leave meat and veggies for 30 seconds or so, but be sure to return to give them a good stir to ensure even cooking.
- With sauteing, you can add oils and sauces such as soy or vinegar as you cook. However, it’s important not to add too much. If you add too much liquid, you’ll end up braising your food as opposed to pan-frying or sauteing it. Done!
The very low-oil method
Best for: low-fat cooking for meat dishes
This method simply involves frying food on a hot pan with very little oil. It’s a healthy, light, and fresh way to cook meats. Veggies aren’t really the best for low-oil frying because they don’t have fat content like meat does.
Most meats release their own fats into the pan to help the cooking along, whereas veggies tend to dry and burn without a little oily help. However, if you give the veggies a generous enough spray with the oil, it can work.
- You really do need a non-stick pan for this method, as it helps the food to move easily without a lot of oil. Otherwise, you risk having your food stuck in a sticky, burnt mess on the bottom of the pan.
- Place your raw food into a bowl or onto a board or tray. Spray with oil spray to coat very lightly. You could also do a very sparse drizzle from the oil bottle if you don’t have oil spray, then just massage it over the food with clean hands.
- Place the non-stick frying pan over a medium-high heat and leave to heat up. Add the pre-oiled food into the pan and either toss or leave to fry until golden, depending on what you’re cooking.
- The reason I don’t recommend adding the oil directly to the pan is that since you are using so little, it’s best for it to go straight onto the food. This ensures a golden, tender result without too much oil. If you added the small amount of oil to the pan, leaving the food unoiled, most of the food would not be evenly exposed to the oil, resulting in a dry, uneven dish. Done!
Hopefully, you are now feeling more confident with how to fry food in a pan, according to a few different methods. The shallow fry, the saute, and the low-oil pan fry are all easy and relatively healthy methods to use. A non-stick pan always makes things a little easier, as well as an oil spray and a wooden spoon or pan-friendly fish slice.
Start off simple, with a chicken breast or simple stir-fry, and work up from there to more complicated dishes such as crumbed or battered fish.