I believe it was Charles Dickens who wrote, "It was the best of zucchini, it was the worst of zucchini; it was an age of sogginess, it was an age of crispiness; it was an epoch of summer's bounty, it was an epoch of summer's failure; I ate the whole plate, I threw away the whole plate."
National Sneak a Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day isn't until August 8th, but zucchini are already prolific in these here parts. I'm sadly not growing any this year as my garden and I went through a divorce, so if you have any zucchini blossoms you want to get rid of, call meeeee, okayyyy? I've been buying the tasty little zukes at the farmer's market- eating them in long strips of zucchini 'noodles', or sliced and sautéed with other veggies, or shredded into zucchini chocolate chip bread, or my personal favorite, fried zucchini. My dad would always either dredge them in cornmeal and fry, or coat them in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. Either of these are still tasty (don't worry, dad!), but my new favorite is coating them in a tempura-like batter before frying, as it results in a thin but very crispy coating.
However, the most important part of frying (other than not burning yourself of course), is maintaining the oil temperature so the food doesn't soak up too much oil and become soggy and sad. Zucchini presents an extra challenge of sogginess, given that it is 95% water itself (this is 3% higher than the water content of watermelon, whattttt?! Maybe I should just deep-fry watermelon instead?). So as my title suggests, the first time I battered and fried zucchini a few weeks ago, even though I maintained the oil temperature the whole time I was frying (you already have a thermometer, yes?), when I expectantly bit into the first zucchini stick as soon as it was cool enough to eat, I was disappointed to find crisp crust wrapped around a stick of mush-that-barely-tasted-like-anything-at-all.
As I am wont to do in times of crisis, I consulted my friend P, who made this brilliant suggestion: "Well, the spongy texture is pretty similar to eggplant, so why not try salting the zucchini before battering and frying to see if that helps get rid of some of the water?" Armed with that light bulb moment where I knew that was probably going to do the trick, this week I went into round 2 of frying zucchini. Some I salted, laying on paper towels for about 20-30 minutes, then drying off the excess salt and the moisture that had accumulated on the zucchini sticks, and some I left unsalted as a control batch (I also cut some in rounds and some in spears, but that had no bearing on the zucchini's finished texture, so go with your personal preference). When I was done, I had to text P to tell her she was so right....but first I had to eat the plate I had just photographed.
vegetable oil for frying
2 small zucchini (about 8 oz), washed
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cold sparkling water (aka seltzer/club soda)
a dash of freshly ground pepper
salt to taste
3 Tbsp freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, optional
1/2 cup marinara for dipping
1. Slice the zucchini into preferred rounds or batons (evenly-sized sticks) that are about 1/4 inch thick. Lay them on a double-layer of paper towels on a plate, then sprinkle the 1/2 tsp kosher salt over the zucchini, making sure to sprinkle on both sides. Let sit for 20 minutes.
2. Heat 1" depth of vegetable oil in a large stainless steel saucepan over medium-high heat until it reaches 375 degrees, which can take 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of the pan/depth of oil/stovetop heat. Just keep an eye on the temperature with your handy thermometer, ok?
2. Blot the excess salt and the accumulated moisture from the zucchini pieces until fairly dry. This will keep the zucchini firmer while frying and prevent excess oil-absorption (as long as you maintain the frying oil temperature at 375 degrees).
3. In a medium sized mixing bowl, dump in the 3/4 cup flour, then whisk in the 1/2 cup club soda. It should foam up a bit when you add it, but then will whisk to about the consistency of a pancake batter. A few lumps in the batter are okay. Set up this bowl and the plate of dry, drained zucchini next to where you're frying the oil. Also line a clean plate with paper towels for absorbing any excess oil after the zucchini have been fried.
4. Once the oil has reached 375 degrees, begin frying: Working quickly, add 1/3 of the zucchini to the batter and coat evenly. Immediately drop the battered zucchini into the hot oil and fry about 1 1/2-2 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Check your temperature again while frying, as it will drop a good bit once you add the zucchini to the oil. I find I normally need to crank the heat up on the burner for a few minutes to bring it back to 375 degrees.
5. Once the zucchini are golden brown (and delicious), remove from the oil with a slotted scoop and drain on the clean paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining zucchini strips. Sprinkle with pepper and any needed salt (taste one first before adding extra salt, since you initially salted the zucchini). Sprinkle with grated parmigiano reggiano if you like, then serve with marinara sauce for dipping.