Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I get up and watch infomercials. These are generally soporific, since they are by nature repetitive: Bare Minerals are swirled, tapped and applied onto eight or nine faces, the Magic Bullet whirls and chops, whirls and chops, and countless smiling people confide about their new-found wealth before a backdrop of gently waving palms. Every few minutes an announcer breaks in to inform me that I can have flawless skin/easy chopping/instant wealth for three easy payments of $39.95, and that if I call in the next five minutes, I can get the special deal.
Last night, I found an infomercial so startling to my foodie sensibility that it not only kept me awake, but has moved me to write about it. The merchandise was a two-basket deep fryer being pushed by someone I think was named Cathy. Cathy, a grandmotherly looking lady in an apron, prepared a number of deep-fried creations in rapid succession while her aging surfer sidekick (Butch? Duke?) followed behind her and tasted each new dish with all the gusto of Rachel Ray. The french fries! The battered fish! The fried shrimp! The chicken nuggets! The giant funnel cake! The corn dog! The doughnuts! It was a regular health expo. Never mind that, after a certain point, all deep-fried food tastes like all other deep-fried food; the message was that its possible to cook pretty much anything faster and better by deep frying it in fat.
I am not saying that I don’t like deep fried foods from time to time, because I do. If I had six weeks to live, I would go immediately to the Santa Monica Pier and eat Benita’s Frites, which are actually fried twice. I have also been enthralled by the spectacle of Nigella Lawson preparing battered and deep fried candy bars. Because I do not want to have a heart attack, and I do not want my family to end up on “Honey, We’re Killing the Kids,” however, I would not have a huge deep fryer taking up space in my kitchen and tempting me or anyone else who lives here.
In her attempts to sway me (and my fellow insomniacs), though, Cathy proposed options I honestly never considered. One of these was deep fried vegetables. Not Tempura, mind you, but battered and fried zucchini and broccoli. Another was refrigerated cinnamon rolls (think Pop ‘N Fresh) which cook faster in a deep fryer if (as is the case with Butch/Duke) your children simply can’t wait for them to bake in the oven. Finally, and this is my personal favorite: Cathy made deep fried shish kabobs. Although I was a little distracted by the idea of meticulously spearing beautiful, fresh chunks of lean meat and vegetables only to render them nutritionally void, Cathy repeatedly reassured me that using this deep fryer would result in fried food that was “five times lower in fat” and contained some fraction of the calories found in similar food served in restaurants. The specifics of this fat and calorie reduction were not shared, but I suspect that unless one is deep frying in chicken broth, fried food is still not a great choice for daily family fare.
Lest I should forget, there was also an interlude highlighting a clever mom hosting a birthday party for her small daughter. No swimming or skating party here, or even the mundane decoration of cupcakes or ice cream sundaes: mom deep fried doughnuts, which were then frosted and decorated with various sprinkles and other toppings. In an age where parents become apoplectic over Krispy Kremes as a post-soccer game snack, I can only imagine the warm reception that would greet an afternoon of decorating and consuming freshly fried doughnuts.
I am no Food Nazi, maybe just a Food Snob. I believe that there is a time and a place for a little something fried, but that there is great value in food that is fresh, and wholesome, and un-messed with. I do not want my shish kebabs deep fried; I want them grilled until the chicken and peppers are a little crispy on the edges, the marinade’s flavor is very intense, and the onion chunks begin to caramelize a bit. I do not want my zucchini deep fried; I like it sauteed in a pan with some good olive oil and some garlic and onions. I do not want my shrimp fried, either; I like it grilled or boiled so I can taste shrimp instead of batter.
I do not want my lilies gilded, and so, despite the passionate exhortations of Cathy and the appreciative moans of Butch/Duke, I will have to pass on replacing real cooking with the magic of dual fry baskets.