I have a secret to tell you about Asian-style bits.
In the Japanese restaurant, correct making of the crispy delicacy tempura
depends upon a certain kind of fried bits. Absent peanut oil*, virgin soy
oil is best for cooking tempura. "Virgin" oil is called such because it is
still a very, very light amber color and hasn't been used to cook much, if
anything. (The term "virgin" is used this way only in the case of soy oil;
it's doesn't have to do with the first pressing, as in olive oil). Tempura
just won't acquire the near-white yellow color and delightful crispy texture if
cooked in old oil (or worse, a fryalator — a french-fry cooking machine).
* A) Many Americans assume that all Asian restaurants use peanut oil too cook with. This is not true; the distinctive odor of hot peanut oil is a give-away that peanut oil is being used (it's much worse for cholesterol-challenged people to eat than soy oil). B) On the other hand, from a chef's standpoint, peanut oil is the oil of choice to make fried foods (and omelettes, by the way) go "poof!" and become bigger, fluffier, and more aesthetically attractive.
When making tempura, the batter must be fresh and the ingredients patted dry
with paper towels. Now, home-cooks often bemoan not being able to achieve the delicate, "lacy" texture and even coating that Japanese restaurants do. Here's the difference between home-made and restaurant tempura. About three tablespoons of the batter is first poured, slowly so as to form a thin stream, into
the wok (fired to 400 degrees fahrenheit). It dives to the bottom and comes up
in tiny round sizzling granules ranging in size from 1/16th of an inch to 1/8th of
an inch. Then, the food to be cooked is dunked into the bowl of batter, the
excess allowed to drizzle off for just a moment.
The batter-covered food is then carefully placed, by hand or tongs, into the
hot wok, with batter "bits" afloat. The food is individually rolled across the
surface of the oil, so the wet batter picks up the bits, until the entirety of the outside is covered with the bits
(imagine an ice-cream cone with the top covered completely with nuts; that kinda
look). The food is then cooked until done; a trial-by-error process that is best
learned via experience and a good eye for the nuances of color.
Now, the intention of
this writeup is certainly not to cause one to pause and think, 'why, I'm eating
re-fried batter when I eat the ostensibly pristine Japanese delight.'
Many people are also of the mindset that because the color of tempura foods is
so light it's not quite as bad for one's health as eating the typical
golden-brown fried items like french fries or fish and chips. There is also a class of idiots
who are of the mind that everything Japanese is good for you because the Japanese people are
all so thin and health-minded. Yeah, right. Those folks haven't been to a Bacchanalian, sake- and beer-
saturated Japanese business luncheon.
Now, to the sushi bar. In America, at least, "crunchy" or "crazy" rolls are
all the rage. The typical spicy tuna roll is rendered "crunchy" by the addition,
inside, of tempura bits that have been removed from the tempura wok. The result
is a tasty and texturally intriguing mixture of yin and yang; the cool, buttery
tuna and spicy mayonnaise foiled by the warm, crispy tempura bits. A crazy roll
is nothing more than a roll with rice and/or fish outside ("inside-out roll")
which is brushed with either spicy mayonnaise or the dark-brown condiment "eel
sauce" and then rolled in the tempura bits, so as to render it to appear as if
it's been cooked tempura-style. Certain Japanese restaurants make large rolls — "futo maki" —
with the seaweed outside, myriad different fish and veggies inside, and actually
put the entire result through the tempura process (bits; dip; roll; fry) and
then cut the roll, warm on the outside, cool on the inside, into four or five
large slices for presentation.
Bits in the Chinese Restaurant
Another "secret" (that's probably obvious to those experienced in cooking) lies
in the bowls of crispy chips placed on the tables at Chinese
restaurants (normally next to a small dish of sweet and sour sauce; "duck
sauce" to some). Some restaurants purchase these pre-made and sealed in bags.
These are the type that are stringy, and kinda look like crispy spaghetti.
That's because the stuff is deep-fried spaghetti. The pre-made types are
made via a process that enhances their ability to remain crispy long after the
bag's been opened. Additionally, myriad food
additives are included to ensure that the crispiness lingers a long time after
exposure to damp, fresh air. These are also offered for sale in supermarkets.
They are called "chow mein noodles." They are considered Chinese even though both chow mein and the noodles indicated to go therewith have nothing at all to do with authentic Chinese cuisine. Okay, okay, there's a convoluted relationship; they're a distant cousin of the Chinese liam mein huang; a fried thin-noodle "pancake" served covered with either seafood or meat, vegetables and savory sauce.
Another type of fried noodle is found on the tables of more distinguished
Chinese restaurants. They're typically wide, flat and covered with crispy,
delightful bubbles outside. And they're delicious compared to the
tasteless/floury pre-packaged type. They begin their lives as won ton
wrappers. The fresh pasta wrappers are cut into 1" by 2" pieces and are then
separated and allowed to dry out just a little bit before frying. The cut pasta
is then deep-fried in a fryalator filled with grease that's probably been used
to cook orders of chicken-on-a-stick, beef-on-a-stick, fried shrimp, egg
rolls, and the tasty, fry-coated hunks of chicken and dough which become
"General Tso's Chicken." Thus the familiar but not-quite-identifiable taste that
Chinese-restaurant frequenters love. Because only soy oil is used, (not the
additive-filled, hydrolized grease products cheap diners use that extend the
useable life of the grease) they're light in color (but not as light as
tempura) and aren't quite as bad for one as noodles cooked in heavy-duty
grease or worse.
Now, do chow mein noodles qualify as bits? Only your upvotes or (Heaven
forbid) downvotes will tell. Before you vote, just think of them as "Super-Sized" bits.
With this piece I've violated one of E2's cardinal rules; never refer to
other nodes, as they might disappear into thin air at any time. NODE FOR THE
AGES! It is my sincere hope that my blatant violation is overlooked by even
the most persnickety readers because I just HAD to jump on the bits bandwagon! UPDATE: Apollyon /msged me and told me this might just become an E2 meme!