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Pan frying is a form of frying characterized by the use of minimal cooking oil or fat (compared to shallow frying or deep frying); typically using just enough oil to lubricate the pan (although, in the case of a greasy food such as bacon, no oil or fats may be needed). As a form of frying, pan frying relies on oil as the heat transfer medium and on correct temperature to retain the moisture in the food. The exposed topside allows, unlike deep frying, some moisture loss and contact with the pan bottom creates greater browning on the contact surface. Because of the partial coverage, the food must be flipped at least once to cook both sides.
Benefits and drawbacks
The advantages of using less oil are practical: less oil is needed on hand and time spent heating the oil is much shorter. The chief disadvantage of using less oil is that it is more difficult to keep the oil at an even temperature. The moisture loss and increased browning can be beneficial or detrimental depending on the item cooked and its preparation and should be taken into account if there is a choice to be made between pan frying and deep frying. Especially when high-temperature frying with lots of oil, it may be advisable to use a splatter guard.
Generally, a shallower cooking vessel is used for pan frying than deep frying. Using a deep pan with a small amount of oil, butter or bacon grease does reduce spatter but the increased moisture around the cooking food is generally detrimental to the preparation. A denser cooking vessel -- the pan should feel heavy for its size -- is necessarily better than a less dense pan since that mass will improve temperature regulation. An electric skillet can be used analogously to an electric deep fryer and many of these devices have a thermostat to keep the liquid (in this case, oil) at the desired temperature.
The fastest and best way to pan fry is to flip the cooked item very often, about every 15-30 seconds. This will over cook the outside less and get the center cooked faster.
- Myhrvold, Nathan. "Modernist cusine". Vol 2: The cooking lab. pp. 38–39.