Look it up. (Or: The Fine Art of Frizzling.)

“I wonder what we did before the Internet,” is one of those phrases that I hear and even say, but that I don’t give any real thought, or actually wonder about at all, until this week when I left my computer in our nation’s capital in—of all places—a bar. It was a wine bar, if that makes it any better, and the computer was found. We’d gone as a group, those of us who cooked one of the dinners that Alice Waters hosted in Washington D.C., as well as our hosts, kind people who volunteered to have four strangers sleep in their spare bedrooms. I was able to do pretty much everything I needed with my iPhone,  but the one thing I wasn’t able to do, that I’ve gotten used to doing, was something I, and I’ll pose we have all gotten used to in the last decade: following our most superficial curiosities on even the most banal subjects with a quick flick of the right pinky finger to the return key.

“Look it up,” our parents said, which felt like the educational equivalent of “pick up your room,” or “not until you’ve eaten your vegetables.” This used to be known as “doing research,” and I can remember the days of scouring boxes of primary source materials in the New York Public Library. That was called commitment, dedication, and really wanting to get that story assignment. But today, it’s not about the printed story. It’s about the blog. The pinky finger. And today-today, it’s about the word “frizzled.” As in…. What does frizzled mean, anyway?

The first time i saw the word “frizzled,” was in reference to leeks—at I want to say Blue Ribbon (the original)—in the early 90s. There it was: printed. I took for granted that it was a word. Isn’t that how we learn language? Not by remembering long lists of words in vocabulary lessons, but by seeing the word a certain number of times and then subconsciously committing it to our vocabularies. Frizzled sounds like a word, and it’s onomatopoeiatic: It’s fried. It’s sizzled. Often what is “frizzled” is a tangle of something that was very thinly sliced, like leeks, so the results are also “frizzy.” But is it really a word? The thought came to me as I was reading an article in Food & Wine about Rajastani cuisine that called for “frizzled mint and ginger” to top a stuffed flounder fillet. It wasn’t the first time I’d wondered what frizzled meant, or meant to look it up, it’s just the first time I did so when my pinky finger was so close to internet access.

wnt-frizzled1

My first search turned up something about “protein receptors,” and nothing at all in terms of tiny fried foods. I felt triumphant. A quick search through FoodTV’s website and Epicurious and I found a whole host of frizzleds (seems leeks and ginger are the most common victims of frizzling). I thought I was about to call out chefs and restaurateurs from coast to coast with their silly, made up word, maybe even find out where “frizzled” first came to be used in the context of food. Several years ago, I wrote a story for The Los Angeles Times about a mysterious vegetable called spigarello, prized by Southern California chefs. In the process of doing the story, I learned that spigarello wasn’t so mysterious, but simply a variety of broccoli rabe, misspelled. I thought I’d hit on the same sort of food writing pay dirt with frizzled, until I looked up “frizzled” again—this time i added the word “definition” to my search for no particular reason, and weirdly, got a whole different list of results. I was crestfallen to find that, in fact, frizzled is used correctly: “to make something crisp by frying.” So much for uncovering a nationwide menu snafu. But at least it didn’t require a trip to the library.

How to Frizzle

A quick Google image search turned up mostly pictures from an advanced science class, peppered with the occasional food blog shot of something fried on top of something not fried. But fried and frizzled are two different things. Fried is fried. Cooked in hot oil is the only requirement. But frizzled is all about what happens once it is fried. It requires that the thing being fried start out fine enough and is fried in hot enough oil, so that its texture is entirely transformed. Think of a ribbon whose ends you curled (err… frizzled) with the blade of a scissors to top a package. Or those crispy onions that come in a can. The best frizzle photo I could find was on gourmet.com, for onions, with a recipe for frizzling too. they use them to top polenta, but you could put them on top of just about anything but your breakfast cereal. Unless you were David Chang or Jose Andres, in which case the breakfast cereal might be fair game, too.

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