I don't usually write public posts, but given the regrettably depopulated state of LJ these days, i figured doing so would allow me to link to this content from that silly new website that everyone seems to prefer these days. (What's it called again? ... something that apropos-ly starts with an "F"?)
Anyways, this story starts with a lot of bananas. ... well, maybe not a lot by most standards, but more than one person can expect to eat before they go bad without consequences.
A couple of weeks ago, i found myself alone in my house for a week with over a dozen bananas that were already ripe. I like bananas, but i wasn't quite sure if endeavoring to take them down alone and raw was wise. Over the week, as they slowly went from yellow to speckled to patched and streaked, i pondered my options. There was always bananabread, of course, which one can make in vast quantities and then freeze. There was also the option to just freeze the bananas themselves, of course, allowing them to be then turned in bananabread at some later point. Either of these was doable, but neither really grabbed me. The former seemed more like a chore, and the latter like a cop-out.
Then, as the week drew to a close and the lifeclock of these bananas was nearing its last red tick, i decided to do the only respectable thing: i deep-fried them.
Now, in the modern day of the internet, cooking something you've never cooked before is no big deal. It seems like five minutes on Google can yield a score of recipes for just about any dish you could ever look for, plus several more that you didn't. In my view, however, to roll this way in certain situations is to miss the point.
Y'see, i cook in one of two modes. In the first mode, i am cooking to obtain a meal. In the second mode, i'm cooking to play.
For those of you who are long-standing LJ friends, you may recall past documentation of undertakings made within this second mode (namely The Bananabread Incident of 2004 and The Accidental Browniecake of 2008). If so, then you probably already get this.
For those of you just joining us, it suffices to say that, when cooking in this second mode, my view is that there's simply no fun to be had unless complete catastrophic failure is a real and looming possibility. If you've done things like blindly substituted an unmeasured quantity of Ovaltine for the sugar you're missing, or let something finish baking in a "freewheeling" oven because you had to run out to meet friends, then you get it, too. It's one part mania, one part gambling, and one part knowing that you'll probably end up eating whatever comes out at the end anyway because you really just like food.
So, no research, and no recipes. I mean, i'm just deep frying stuff, right? How wrong could it go?
I begin with what i know. I know that deep frying a thing involves three additional things: 1) something to fry in; 2) something wet that forms the base of the breading -- usually egg; and 3) something dry that makes the breading, well, bread-ish.
Number 1 is easy. I have oil.
Number 2 is easy. I have eggs. ... and milk even.
Number 3 was where i decided i was getting bored. I mean everybody fries stuff in flour or what-have-you. Seasoned bread crumbs are great for savory dishes, like eggplant or chicken parmesan, but not for bananas. Then i remembered seeing something in the cupboard earlier in the week that suddenly struck a chord, a curious container marked Organic Shredded Coconut. Now we're on to something.
OK, so the next thing i should make clear is that i don't own a deep-fryer. No big deal. This isn't a turkey, it's slices of banana. I bust out my small cast-iron skillet, because i don't want to use tons of oil, and set it on med-hi to heat.
I start to pour in enough canola oil so that a decently thick slice of banana can float with plenty of room, but i feel like i'm using up a lot of my oil on what will likely be a single-use session. My wheels start turning again, wondering what i can supplement with. Lo and behold, we have coconut oil! We actually usually use it for making soap, but its perfectly fine for cooking if you don't mind the flavor. ... and why would i, given that i'm "breading" my bananas with coconut anyway?
So now the mix of oils is on the rise, and i need to prep the breading. I beat a few eggs up and add a little milk, and again, i get bored. What more can i add here? Dry spices, should i get inspired, would probably go better in the "dry stuff" mix. With what might i spike up this egg mix?
Feeling impulsive, i crack a bottle of Reed's Extra Ginger Brew from the fridge and put about a quarter of it into the egg mix. I'm not sure it'll add much in such small quantity, but either way, i now have something to drink while i'm cooking.
Back to the dry mix. I'm concerned that the coconut alone might not be "bread-ish" enough. What else -- besides boring old flour -- could i add here? Ah, yes! I have oat bran, which i've been buying in bulk and putting on cereal to help me cheat on my cholesterol tests. This is great! Now this stuff i'm deep-frying will be totally healthy!
I 50/50 the coconut and oat bran in a mid-sized bowl, and then decide it needs more. I sprinkle a layer of ground cinnamon over the top. Excellent.
With the oil, wet and dry mixtures all now ready, i get to the bananas. I slice them fairly thin -- maybe about ¼ inch -- and on a slight diagonal to make the pieces a little larger. I dip 'em, roll 'em, and drop 'em in the oil. Away we go.
I think the oil was just a bit too hot at first. They seem to cook very quickly, with the breading reaching a very dark brown (near black) in well under a minute. I quickly pull these out, lower the heat a bit, and continue. As i bread and fry more, the oil temperature drops, and eventually reaches a point where they take a few minutes to fry to a golden brown. Lovely.
As i'm finishing my first batch of breading -- the first of the four key components to run out -- i take the first taste of the final product. ... and i'm pleasantly surprised! Even the ones that looked overcooked still had a nice flavor and decent texture. I end up eating what i'm sure is an unhealthy quantity of these tasty little things over the course of deep-frying the rest, with the less overcooked ones being generally better than the first.
On my second batch of coconut, bran, and cinnamon, i switch to a larger, flatter container, which allows me to coat the egged banana slices with a shaking motion rather than by rolling them manually. This worked far better, resulting in a more even coating and far fewer drippy blobs of egg forming wasteful blobs of breading in the bowl. It also made for a larger area over which to sprinkle cinnamon, which i applied more liberally the second time. By the end of the whole batch, i did have quite a bit of breading flaked off into the oil in my skillet, but it didn't seem to cause a problem (other than maybe a little food waste). I think a lot of it probably came from the first batch, where the breading was spread more unevenly and therefore more prone to breaking off.
I can't recall how many bananas i did -- maybe about 10 -- but all in all they turned out pretty nicely. The slightly crispy fried breading was quite tasty, and the soft, almost gooey banana slices in the center will still sweet and flavorful. They were definitely much better fresh and hot than later on, i'd say, though i could see chilling them down also working, perhaps with a modified recipe.
Overall, i considered the experiment a win, at least given that i'd pretty much made it all up as i went. That said, there were few lessons learned (or re-learned) that are worthy of mention:
- The usual laws of deep-frying apply here. Among these are the fact that you'll use far less wet mixture than you might think (i ended up throwing a bunch out), and far more dry mixture than you might think.
- Given a priori knowledge of the availability of ginger brew, i'd've skipped the milk in the batter. Having both served only to dilute the brew and/or thin the batter, which i'd ideally like to have a bit thicker next time.
- Next time, i'd perhaps start with the oil a little cooler, just to avoid the initial overdone batch (even tho they still tasted pretty good).
- In retrospect, a friend who heard about my experiment asked if i'd frozen the bananas before frying them, which is apparently the "right" way to do this. I'm not sure i'm sold on that. I imagine that doing this would keep the bananas more firm, and maybe generate an end product that features a hot, crispy outside and a cool center. That doesn't sound bad, but i didn't mind the hotter, softer center. I'm wondering if this freezing rule applies more to deep-frying whole bananas, which makes a bit more sense. In my case, i'd actually consider slicing them thinner next time, to get something closer to a banana "chip" with more emphasis on the crisp breading and slightly less gooey center.
So there you have it, more adventures in having only a faint idea what i'm doing in the kitchen and being totally okay with it.
... and i got rid of pretty much all of the bananas.