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FE&SEditorial Archives2004September — E&S Spotlight

Out Of The Frying Pan, Into The Oil

Ease of use and durability in design and construction are cited by many operators as the most desirable characteristics of fry-station equipment. Efficient mise en place setups and proper oil filtration and waste management are also among important considerations for operators when they equip hot-line frying stations for production of menu items.

Boston-based Legal Sea Foods is a popular, family-owned seafood chain concept with a reputation for serving the freshest fish available anywhere. The restaurant chain has grown from humble beginnings as a single fish restaurant, built as an addition to a seafood market in 1968, and has now expanded to include 30 locations up and down the East Coast of the United States.

Menus at Legal include a wide variety of fried appetizers and entrées, as well as french fries and fried onion strings. Fried shrimp, fried oysters, fried haddock prepared for the classic fish & chips and fried soft-shell crabs are all consistently big sellers at Legal Sea Foods. Even more popular are fried calamari and the regionally inspired fried New England clams, according to Rich Vellante, Legal Sea Food's executive chef. As a result, Legal's kitchen hot lines include correspondingly spacious and well-equipped fry stations to handle the high volume of menu items prepared by this cooking methodology.

At the flagship Legal Sea Foods restaurant, located in a newly renovated landmark building in downtown Boston's Park Square, glimpses of the ongoing kitchen activity are afforded to patrons seated at the bar and in some areas of the open dining area.

A fry station anchors one end of the hot line here, with a corresponding chef's prep and plating table, including pass-through expediting counter running along the front-of-house side of the kitchen. Two double-basket gas fryers are used for fry preparation in Legal's Park Square kitchen, although some smaller locations may be equipped with one double- and one single-basket unit. In all Legal kitchens, one fryer unit is designated specifically for seafood prep while the other is used only for preparation of french fries and fried onion strings, according to Chef Vellante.

At one side of the Park Square fry station is a 6-ft.-long stainless counter with four large refrigerated drawers underneath. The counter, which serves as a mise en place area for the fry chef, holds stainless bowls and small, plastic bins, containing the buttermilk, flour and spices used to coat food items before frying. Metal tongs, sifters and hand strainers used by the fry chef as he prepares menu items, are also kept close at hand. After frying in the 800°F. oil vat, product-filled baskets are racked above vats for a brief cooling and draining period. Papyrus-type cardboard plates are then used by the chef to drain excess oil from food items effectively before plating. Appropriate garnishes and sauces to finish the plating process are kept close at hand in small drop-in stainless pans in a refrigerated section of the chef's table.

The fry station found in the kitchen of the flagship location of Legal Sea Foods, Boston, includes a spacious mise en place area containing refrigerated drawers for portioned products and corresponding counter space that holds stainless bowls and wire strainers used by the fry chef to prepare menu items before frying.

"The fry prep stations in Legal kitchens must provide our fry chefs with the space they need to prepare foods before production and to finish them properly when they are cooked," said Vellante. "The clam fry mix, for instance, needs to be periodically sifted to retain proper texture and we offer four different spice preparations just for our fried calamari alone, as well as other preparations for popcorn shrimp or fried oysters. Refrigerated drawers to hold portioned product for the fry station mise en place are also important for efficiency of preparation at this high-volume station," continued Vellante. "Products in the refrigerated drawers are held in perforated pans above solid pans that hold ice. It's important to keep holding temperatures of raw seafood constant, both for HACCP concerns and because any temperature fluctuations can cause unwanted deterioration in the product's texture and flavor," he explained.

Legal Sea Foods, with its proprietary fish processing and inspection center, has always maintained a reputation for serving customers the freshest, most healthful menu items available. Recent concerns over the impact of hydrogenated oils on food preparation have resulted in the exclusive use of canola oil in fryers at Legal. "We made that switch about three years ago, and have also managed to convince the purveyor of our french fries to switch to a strict canola oil-only pre-preparation," commented Vellante.

"In recent years, we have also gone back to using very simple gas fryers without a lot of bells and whistles," he added. "In our experience, components such as digital timers and complicated filtering systems can break down. Our current fryers take a beating, yet still hold temperatures consistently, with a quick recovery time."

For the two residential dining halls at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, dining directors have also come to the conclusion that in the case of frying equipment, a simple design is most desirable. "We found that our cooks would rely too much on digital timers when using their fryers, rather than developing a hands-on knowledge of when the menu items they were preparing were properly cooked," commented Carol Fletcher, assistant director of dining at this university.

Two double-basket units are used at the high-volume frying station at Legal Sea Foods' flagship location, although smaller locations may contain one double- and one single-basket model. Perforated rubber matting on the floor of the station helps to prevent slip-and-fall accidents.

In recent years, Fletcher has helped to oversee a changeover in the two residential dining areas from conventional, cafeteria service to multi-platform, marketplace-style dining concepts. Piazza Dining was renovated and opened three years ago, while the newly renovated Rialto Dining Center opened in August 2004, just in time for this academic year. Frying equipment and fried menu items in the marketplace dining centers are found at the grill stations at both locations. This equipment is used to prepare rotating menu items at breakfast, lunch and dinner, including popular chicken and fish fingers and curly fries or tater tots. The new Rialto Dining Center also features a cooking suite anchoring a station called Amiano, which features international cuisine. The island suite includes a small fry station to prepare appetizers such as ethnically inspired won tons, egg rolls and calamari. For a couple of special events, dining facilities have even experimented with fry preparation of delicacies such as fried Oreos, Mars bars and Twinkies.

"Because of the marketplace dining concept we have established for our dining centers, we have actually cut back on the capacity of our frying station's equipment. The grill stations in the two dining centers now each contain three double-basket gas fryers, down from four double baskets required in cafeterias before renovations. "For marketplace-concept food preparation, menu items tend to be cooked-to-order, rather than in bulk preparations," Fletcher pointed out.

Dining services at UNI are currently exploring the addition of innovative technology for use in facilities' fry stations through a company that has developed an automated solution to storing, handling and disposing of hot cooking oil. The closed-loop system consists of a filtration system, fresh oil tank and waste oil tank. With the flip of a switch, oil is added to fry vats, filtered or transferred to the waste tank, with oil delivery and tank pickups also handled by the company. "Dealing with oil for fry stations has always been messy, labor-intensive and even dangerous for staff, potentially the source of injuries caused by slips, falls and burns," commented Fletcher. "We hope to have this system in place in the next couple of months to benefit our staff, eliminate grease spills and grease-vent buildup, and help with recycling of frying oil."

A stainless grease guard separates the double-basket fryer from the rest of the hot-line equipment at Mama Mexico, New York City. A perforated strainer and perforated stainless pan are used for freshly made corn chips and taco shells as they come out of the unit.

Patrons flock to the two Manhattan locations of Mama Mexico for refreshing margaritas, a lively, party-like atmosphere, and for the upscale, fresh, authentic Mexican cuisine. Kitchen equipment configuration is identical in both Midtown and Upper West Side locations of the restaurant according to owner/manager Juan Rojas Campos.

The open hot line, located along one wall of the front of house, is visible from seating areas but separated by a corresponding chef's prep and plating area. This work area includes low-boy refrigerators used to store raw, portioned product, as well as three undercounter warming drawers used to keep freshly fried tortilla chips and taco shells warm until service. A small, double-basket fryer is located at one end of the hot line, and a stainless grease guard separates the fryer from an adjacent grill. Another double-basket fryer is located in a small back-of-the-house kitchen, designated to support the preparation of orders for the popular take-out and delivery service offered at Mama Mexico stores.

Key E&S For Fry Stations
  • Gas fryers
  • Oil tank containers
  • Paper filters
  • Stainless grease guards
  • Stainless wire baskets
  • Chef's table w/refrigerated base
  • Stainless drop-in pans
  • Stainless counters
  • Refrigerated drawers
  • Low-boy refrigerators
  • Stainless bowls
  • Plastic bins
  • Metal tongs
  • Stainless hand-held wire strainers
  • Sifters
  • Perforated metal funnels
  • Perforated stainless pans
  • Stainless solid pans
  • Papyrus draining plates
  • Metal plates
  • Absorbent paper
  • Perforated rubber floor mats

"Because most of the items we fry are corn-based, such as tortilla chips, taco shells or tortilla-wrapped entrées such as chimichangas, we prefer to use corn oil in our fryer vats," said Rojas Campos. "Our chefs are trained to use all the hot-line equipment and usually work to prepare an order rather than just at one station. That is why the work aisle is wider than in some other kitchens. The perforated rubber floor mats are important in that area to avoid slips and falls on our tile floors, especially at the fry station," he observed. To drain excess oil from chips and taco shells, chefs at Mama Mexico may use a large perforated funnel before items are briefly cooled and dried in perforated stainless pans, placed on the small stainless table adjacent to the fry station. Other fried menu items are drained on metal plates lined with absorbent paper before plating.

"Every table of customers at Mama Mexico goes through at least one basket of tortilla chips with salsa, and we prefer that the chips be as fresh as possible," said Rojas Campos. "We store chips in warming drawers to help keep them fresh, but sometime those drawers can empty out too quickly in busy meal periods. It's possible that we could use one more fryer, just for the chips," he concluded.

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