Wednesday Wisdom: Pakora Perfection
“Which liquid turns into solid when heated?” Obviously the answer is pakora or desi fritter. When it rains, we fry pakoray to enjoy the weather with a cup of tea and during Ramadan it is a must iftar item for 99% of Pakistanis. Pakora could be our national snack or at least it should be. It is a humble, deep fried snack made of gram flour/chickpea flour which makes it naturally gluten free as well. You’ll see pakoras being fried in big woks in all busy markets in the late afternoon and evening and it sells like hot cakes. Pun intended. Besides plain pakora ( when you drop tablespoon of seasoned batter in hot oil to deep fry), there is a variety of vegetables you can coat in the batter and then fry. Most common being potato slices or wedges, egg plant, onion, spinach, green chillies, cauliflower etc. even cottage cheese is an interesting treat. Typically pakoras are crispy on the outside and soft and spongy inside. If you are in pursuit of perfect pakora keep the following points and in mind and have flawless pakora every time;
- Fresh Flour: First factor is freshness. Do not expect good texture fritters if you are using 3-4 months old besan/gram flour. It is always a good option to buy smaller packing of flour if you aren’t sure how quickly you will be consuming it. Once packing seal is open, transfer the flour to an airtight container instead of just rolling the cut open end of packing and securing with a clip or rubber band.
- Quality of Besan/ Gram flour: Pure and organic is always a better choice. Make sure that the flour you are buying is of good quality, not mixed or contaminated with different flours.
- Aerating Flour: unlike baking you don’t have to be too careful with measuring flour for pakora as our desi traditional cooking is quite forgiving and flexible in this regard but I would highly recommend aerating besan/ gram flour before scooping out. It is a simple thing that hardly takes 30 seconds and I do it with all the flours before taking them out of their containers. Open the airtight lid, use a dry fork or a spoon to mix and fluff the flour in the container. It breaks any small lumps and traps air which makes your pakoray fluffier and lighter.
- Seasoning and Leavening: Once you take besan/gram flour out in to a mixing bowl add seasoning, dried herbs, spices and only use baking soda for leavening. About 1/8 of a teaspoon of baking soda is good enough for a cup of besan/gram flour. Do not use baking powder at all please.
- Water Temperature: Use water at room temperature to make batter. No need to have warm, hot or cold water. Unleash your inner Goldilocks to make not-so-thick and not-so runny batter. It should be “just right”. Right consistency of batter does not spread in the hot oil and holds its shape during frying. If batter is too thick, pakoras will become dense.
- Resting: It is always better to mix the batter at least 10-15 minutes prior to frying. Most flours need a little resting time to develop deeper taste and better texture.
- Onion and Coriander: Onion and coriander provide another layer of texture with every bite and keep pakora moist and super tender. Always add them just before frying otherwise they’ll release water and make batter thinner.
- The Wok: Another important element is the utensil you fry pakoras in. Thickness of the wok and the quality of the wok matters a lot. Do not use frying pans as they are shaped differently and not meant for this job. Pakoras fried in a wok will be rounder and more evenly cooked as compared to the ones fried in frying pan. Pick the right size for the wok.
- Cooking Oil: Olive oil is not meant for frying so don’t use it. Any flavorless plant based oil is good enough, like canola and corn oil. make sure the oil is clean and no residues already floating in it before you start frying as it will effect the cooking time, stick to the pakoras to leave black spots and of course give a burnt flavor. Put enough oil so pakoras can be deep fried properly.
- Temperature: Preheat the wok filled with oil on medium high flame. Oil should be hot enough that when you put batter in, it holds its shape and quickly rises to the surface. If oil isn’t heated enough, pakora will first sink. Keep the flame steady and do not turn in lower or higher during the frying process. Even when you are taking fried pakoras out of the wok, don’t lower the flame as it will result in excessive oil absorption. Do not over crowd the wok, it will decrease the oil temperature and pakoras will become rubbery.
- Wire Baskets: Never ever put any fried food on paper towel, kitchen towel, tissue paper. Some food are meant to be deep fried and there is no point pressing them with kitchen towel, it will only make them soggy. It is better to put them in a wire basket which will keep them crisp.