I am a big proponent of fried foods. Yep, and I am not afraid to admit it, but there is a caveat to that liking: it has to be fried correctly.
I had fried chicken the other day at a local restaurant, and with the first bite, I could tell that the oil was old and had not been filtered. No matter how good the technique is, no matter how creative the batter and seasonings are, old oil will ruin anything that is cooked in it. Rule number one: use fresh, clean oil. Oil that has been used can be filtered through a cloth towel and will be made much better, not as good as brand new, but better. The right oil is a must.
Rule number two: maintain a constant temperature. That means using a large enough pot (filled only three-quarters of the way full to avoid spillover and a kitchen fire) so that when you drop the food into the pot, the temperature doesn’t plummet. When that happens, the food you are trying to cook absorbs too much oil and becomes soggy. Another way to help avoid losing the desired temp of hot oil is to never fry cold foods. Let the food warm up to room temp, then batter and fry. Finally, do not overcrowd the pot with too much food.
I once had to fry oysters in a shallow pan (it’s a long story!), and I used a thermometer to make sure I had the temp I wanted. When the oil reached 300 degrees, I dropped in four oysters, and to my amazement, the temp dropped from 300 to 175 and took forever to come back up. Obviously, the oysters were ruined, and I never made that mistake again.
The next option is choosing a batter. The traditional batter is an egg wash (eggs and milk whisked) and then seasoned flour. It’s good, but I have a better recipe. Toss what you are cooking in dry tempura powder, allowing the food to become tacky (sticky). If you are in a hurry, you can spritz the food with a little water. Next, toss the food in panko breadcrumbs.
Lastly, do not overcook your food. Shrimp and oysters are done in about one minute. Every second over that time you cook them alters the texture and makes them less than delicious.
As for seasoning, always season in layers, never all at once. If you are using the egg wash and flour batter, season both. If you are using the tempura and panko, season the tempura powder. No matter the batter, just as soon as the food comes out of the fryer and onto the paper towels to absorb excess oil, season again.
I assure you that frying properly is healthier than sauteing! If you fry properly, the food is in and out of the hot oil very quickly, if you sauté, the food wallows around in less hot oil for quite a while, absorbing way too much oil and never achieving the crunchy texture that is best.