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~ Crunchy, Batter-Dipped Panko-Crusted Deep-Fried Yellow Zucchini w/Sweet Chili Sauce (Mae Ploy) ~

IMG_9928^I don't know about you, but I want some of that!^

The long, cylindrical, golden zucchini/yellow zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables.  It is slightly sweeter than green zucchini, but, not enough for me to prefer one over the other.  For me, it's all about how appealing they look when served together that makes me insist Joe grow both, and his garden is full of both now.  Botanically, zucchini are the fruit of the zucchini flower, but culinarily, they're treated as a veggie.  They're best if harvested small/medium, 8"-10" long, while their seeds are still young and tender.  You novice gardeners don't want to hear this, but that giant, prize-winning monster zucchini you grew is no way to impress your culinary friends!

IMG_9689The difference between yellow zucchini and yellow Summer squash is:

IMG_0178In the big picture, all squash fall into two categories:  Winter or Summer. Zucchini are Summer squash, they are a member of the Italian marrow squash family, and, were brought to the USA by Italian immigrants in the 1920's. Aside from color, yellow zucchini are identical to green zucchini.  While they are indeed a type of yellow squash, correctly labeled they are: zucchini. They remain cylindrical in shape, do not taper at one end and get bulbous at the other, and/or have crook necks.

Yellow zucchini are a hybrid of Italian green zucchini -- yellow zucchini are a specific type of yellow Summer squash!

IMG_9856 IMG_9858 IMG_9907If vegetables that are unremarkable in taste and texture are what you crave, you'll be happy to know any zucchini is safe to eat raw.  That being said, a bit of cooking does them a great kindness.

IMG_9946If you are looking for uses for your overabundant green or yellow zucchini (which can be used interchangeably), there's all sorts of recipes out there:  zucchini bread, cake, muffins, fritters, pancakes, waffles, etc. -- and they're all fine if you're looking to sneak a vegetable into your family's diet without them knowing it is there (and they won't).

<For me, I like them cooked and served on a plate in an identifiable manner:  lightly-seasoned and sauted, baked as a vegetable gratin, or, batter-dipped and deep-fried as a kick-some-butt appetizer!

6a0120a8551282970b0191045e8cfb970cA bit about batter dipping for deep-frying:  The ties that bind are more important than you think.  After a showdown between watery egg-milk-flour mixtures vs. my trendy beer batter, the beer batter won hands down.  In fact, it didn't even turn out to be a competition.  My beer batter doesn't use all-purpose flour either.  The day I started using pancake mix in place of all-purpose flour, my batter and end result went from ordinary to extraordinary.

6a0120a8551282970b01901e689bdd970bA bit about panko coating:  Why in the name of crunchiness would anyone want to continue to use old-fashioned breadcrumbs to coat fish, meat or vegetables if they knew about panko?  They wouldn't.

"Panko" is the Japanese word for "bread crumbs", and theirs are considerably crispier and crunchier than any of our Western bread crumbs.  What's more, they absorb less grease, more flavor and stay crispy a lot longer.  Panko is the "wow factor" of bread crumbs.

6a0120a8551282970b0192ac27f253970dA bit about deep-frying:  In my humble opinion, God put deep-fryers on this earth for a good reason and I now believe that next to fried-green tomatoes, zucchini may have been at the top of his list.

Put away that skillet or dangerous pot and enjoy the mess-free ease of how this relatively inexpensive and very-safe countertop appliance perfectly regulates temperature and cooks all types of food. 

Who wants a crunchy, crispy coating on a perfectly-cooked vegetable?  We all do.  Who wants a stovetop full of grease spatters and a ton of cleanup?  Not me, but this choice remains yours!

For those of you who erroneously maintain the mindset that deep-frying is bad because you end up ingesting too much oil, press the reset button: 

Deep-frying and shallow pan-frying have both earned their rightful place in the food world, and, I am not claiming that either is the healthiest form of cooking, but, when it comes to foods that are coated in bread crumbs and fried, pan frying wins the "suck up the oil" contest.  When food is breaded and sauted in a skillet, ever notice how much oil is left in the pan afterward?  A lot less than when you started.  Whats more, if you are working in batches, you know for a fact that you have to add more oil to the skillet each time.  The reverse is true when deep-frying.  Almost all of the oil remains in the fryer at the end, even when frying multiple batches.  Why?

A shallow skillet of oil will drop in temperature when cooler food is added to it, causing it to absorb more oil than fat kept at a steady 360-375+ degrees.  A deeper container of fat will retain its temperature when cooler food is added to it, resulting in less absorption of oil.   

IMG_97072  medium-sized 8" yellow zucchini, or green zucchini or a combination of both, each cut into 12, 1/2" discs

1 1/4  cups pancake mix, for dredging

1 1/2  cups additional pancake mix, for batter

1  12-ounce bottle of beer, or club soda (Note:  I highly-recommend the beer because of the yeasty tang it lends to the batter.)

1  8-ounce box or bag panko breadcrumbs

corn or peanut oil for deep-frying

freshly-ground sea salt

Thai Sweet Chili Sauce (Mae Ploy), for dipping or drizzling, store-bought or homemade (See Cook's Note below.)

6a0120a8551282970b01901e68dca4970b~ Step 1.  Part A.  Organize what I like to refer to as "a breading assembly line" (from left to right): IMG_96931)  1)  An 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish containing 1 1/4 cups of dry pancake mix.  2)  A mixing bowl containing 1 1/2  cups of dry pancake mix .  3)  An 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish containing 1/2 of the panko breadcrumbs.  4)  A deep-fryer containing oil preheated to 350 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.  5)  A baking pan lined with several layers of paper towels + a cooling rack.

6a0120a8551282970b0192ac2845a2970d~ Step 1.  Part B.  When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer. Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer or some water to maintain a drizzly consistency.

IMG_9711 IMG_9715~ Step 2.  Working 4-5 disks at a time, dredge the zucchiniin the dry pancake mix to coat them on all sides.  Note:  I fry 4 larger discs (from the center of the zucchini) or 5 smaller disks ( from the slightly-tapered ends).  This is what fits comfortably in the basket of my fryer without overcrowing.

IMG_9722 IMG_9727~ Step 3.  Next, move up the assembly line, and using a fork, one at a time, dip each disk in the batter.  As you lift each one out of the batter, hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the excess batter to drizzle back into the bowl. As you batter dip each disk, place it into panko.  

IMG_9736 IMG_9740~ Step 4.  Dredge each one on all sides the moment it enters the panko, meaning, do not wait to coat the disks in panko until all four are in the dish.  Why?  You don't want to give the thin coating of batter any time to drip off the sides.

Note:  I accomplish the breading task on an ongoing basis, using a fork held in one of hand.  This keeps my other hand free to deep-fry!

IMG_9767 IMG_9771~ Step 5. Using the fork or your fingertips (whatever you feel most comfortable with), carefully place the zucchini disks in the basket of the fryer and slowly lower it down into corn or peanut oil that has been preheated to 360 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.  Close the lid and fry at 360 degrees for exactly 3 IMG_9812minutes.  Do not overcook.  

1/2"-thick zucchini discs + 360 degrees for 3 minutes =

a golden crispy coating outside with tender, flavorful zucchini inside.  

Lift basket from fryer and transfer zucchini to a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.

IMG_9819Tip:  Tip basket onto pan to not damage  coating via a fork or tongs.

IMMEDIATELY sprinkle zucchini with a grinding of sea salt, then transfer them to a cooling rack. Repeat process until all zucchini discs are deep fried.  Serve hot (immediately as they come out of the deep-fryer, warm (within 30 minutes), or at room temperature (within 1 hour).  Trust me, these will still be crispy after one hour:

IMG_9822I cannot stress how important quality control is:

IMG_9829Crunchy, Batter-Dipped Panko-Crusted Deep-Fried Yellow Zucchini w/Sweet Chile Sauce (Mae Ploy):  Recipe yields 2 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2, shallow 8" x 8" baking dishes or 9" pie dishes; medium mixing bowl; whisk; fork; deep-fryer; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; paper towels; cooling rack

IMG_0137Cook's Note: There is no shame in purchasing Mae Ploy at your Asian market .  But, in the event you'd like to make it at home, my recipe for ~"Would You Like Sweet Chili Sauce With That?" ~ can be found in Categories 8, 13 & 20!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)


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