Q: I suffer from a lethal nut allergy, and yet so many places I go use peanut oil for frying, so no fried chicken for me. Since nut allergies are awfully prevalent, it would be a public service to know which local chefs are aware of the condition.
A: As a reporter, breaking bad news is literally my job. That means I’m relishing this opportunity to be the bearer of information that ought to make you very, very happy: Your fried chicken days aren’t done.
Before we get down to the details, though, it’s probably worth noting that the Food and Drug Administration does not classify peanut oil as an allergen. While I understand you’re not able to tolerate it, studies show most people with peanut allergies can safely eat most highly refined peanut oils (cold-pressed oils are another story.) To be clear, I’m not advising allergy sufferers to make a beeline for Chick-fil-A, which promotes its oil choice as emblematic of its Southern heritage, but it is a matter worth taking up with a doctor.
I haven’t counted, but I wouldn’t be surprised if more downtown Charleston restaurants serve fried chicken than don’t. So I took up your quandary with a representative sample of them, using the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau’s online list of favorite fried chicken spots as a guide to oil experts.
“Many people use peanut oil for its neutral taste and high smoke point, but I personally have never really used it,” says Joe DiMaio, executive chef of The Darling. DiMaio’s crew fries chicken for the restaurant’s lauded sandwich, as well as a staggering amount of seafood. “We use soybean oil, which is low in saturated fat.”
According to DiMaio, sunflower oil is popular with other local chefs. Shane Whiddon, executive chef at Virginia’s on King, swears by blended vegetable oil.
But Aaron Lemieux, another executive chef with the Holy City Hospitality group, suggests it’s not always necessary to steer clear of restaurants that typically dip chicken in peanut oil.
“I would recommend asking the chef to pan-fry items in canola or olive oil,” the Michael’s on the Alley chef says. “Chefs take allergies very seriously, and they will always go the extra mile to ensure your safety.”
Based on what I’ve heard from readers, that’s true — and something to celebrate with a crisp golden drumstick.
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