Fried chicken continues to be a world-beating signature dish and it’s not just thanks to the enduring appeal of white meat in a spicy -coating, as purveyed so successfully since the 1940s by QSR giants like Colonel Harland -Sanders. Ongoing improvements in frying technology continue to make an important -contribution. Bruce Whitehall talks to pressure fryer pioneer Henny Penny
Fried chicken has long been a staple of the QSR business, thanks in large part to a dedicated cooking appliance. With pressure fryers, batches of marinated and breaded chicken pieces are loaded into a frying vat which is then sealed. The resultant pressure not only achieves significantly faster cooking times but helps make the food more succulent, with less shrinkage and lower absorption of oil. There is also less flavour and odour transfer between products in the frying vat.
Ever since introducing the first commercial pressure fryer in 1957 at a small restaurant in Eaton, Ohio, Henny Penny Corporation has continued to evolve the concept, putting particular attention on getting the perfect seal when the fry vat is loaded and closed.
Key features of today’s models are a colour-keyed locking spindle to engage the pressure seal and a patented lid lock system, which keeps the lid sealed after cooking until pressure drops down to 1?psi. Other features include a special channel under the lid to direct condensation away from the vat, a raised edge on the deck to reduce spills, and built-in oil filtration.
The global spread of pressure fryer usage – particularly in Europe but also in the Middle East and Asia –, has brought interesting variations in the appliance’s application. “We are primarily focused on supplying the fried chicken market,” comments Jason Moles, Field Marketing Manager at Henny Penny headquarters. “But there are customers who use them very effectively for other menu items, from different types of protein such as breaded fish to tempura-style vegetables.”
The food does not necessarily have to be breaded or coated, he points out. “Pressure frying can suit sausage and any bone-in product which is relatively dense. As a variant of chicken, turkey pieces do very well in the USA, especially around Thanksgiving time.” The most typical usage involves fresh meat but freezer-to-fryer products, on longer cook times, are also widely employed, especially in the convenience grocery sector.
Now sold throughout the world, Henny Penny’s pressure fryer range is made in electric or gas to suit the local utility situation and in sizes which include narrow footprint models to minimise floor space as well as large capacity models that are able to take a batch of up to 24 lbs (10.9 kg) of food.
Programmable computer control with LED time/temperature display is standard on all models and a number of options are available including idle/melt/cleanout modes, water detection alert, filter prompt, customisable filter tracking and a 16-character digital display with multiple language settings. The stainless steel fry-vats come with 7-year warranty.
Open fryer breakthrough
While pressure fryers continue to be Henny Penny’s primary focus, the company made the important decision in 2009 to enter a more diverse market: open fryers for cooking French fries and numerous other side dishes, main dishes and appetisers. In developing its Evolution Elite line of open fryers, the com-pany’s engineers decided to re-think trad-itional fry-vat design with a shallower profile without the usual ‘cold zone’ in its base.
This had a remarkable effect, responding to greater operator concerns about oil management issues. “Users today are getting hit both ways, having to use more expensive oils which don’t last as long,” Moles observes. Concerns don’t just relate to the rising cost of today’s frying media, which are typically vege-table oil and blends with a shorter usage potential than the ‘long life’ hydrogenated oils once widely used in foodservice but now discredited on health grounds. Consideration also has to be given. Moles points out, to the costs and complications of disposing of spent oil. Any reduction can be a significant cost consideration.
“Filtering typically every 10-12 loads, Evolution Elite users can as a general rule use their oil around two or three times longer,” Moles claims. The fryers are rated at higher than 85 percent efficiency. Achieving lower oil and energy usage is aided by the integrated combination of three technologies:
- SmartFilter Express to enable oper-ators to filter any vat in less than four minutes while continuing to fry in other vats.
- Oil Guardian automatic top-off system for consistent oil replenishment in vats.
- SmartFilter, which employs special pads and chemical bonding to trap and extract both particulate and soluble impurities from the used frying oil.
As a fryer specialist for over 50 years, Henny Penny has grown organically but last year the company took the exceptional step of acquiring another US foodservice equipment manufacturer. Wood Stone Corporation is well-known for the colourfully decorated pizza ovens it custom-makes for US pizzeria chains such as Wolfgang Puck and California Pizza Kitchen and also for major European players like Zizzi’s. Since 1990 it has manufactured stone hearth ovens using technologically advanced ceramics, plus other speciality cooking appliances such as planchas, rotisseries, tandoors and charbroilers.
“The two company cultures are very closely matched,” comments Jason Moles. “We share the same values and approach to doing business and there are definitely a lot of things we will be learning from each other and taking to our respective markets. But we are continuing to operate as two separate entities and the aim is to keep both brands running just like they have been.”
Henny Penny is already represented in the pizzeria segment where, for example, pizza restaurants have added chicken wings to their menus and therefore need fryers as well as ovens.
It also manufactures a line of sensor-controlled holding cabinets able to maintain precise humidity levels between 10 and 90% when holding items like fresh baked pizzas at the point-of-sale. And its line of SmartCombi combi-ovens, sourced through an OEM arrangement, suits production of calzones, lasagna, breadsticks, wraps and other items at pizzerias as well as wide range of baking, roasting and steaming applications across the foodservice operation.
Steve Cobb, Chairman and Owner of Henny Penny, describes his company and Wood Stone as “employee-centric organisations that grew through innovation and commitment to customer-driven solutions.” Both companies also share an international outlook with Wood Stone reckoned to have supplied 13,000 restaurants in over 75 countries. They remain privately-held businesses and Wood Stone will continue to operate and manufacture out of its facility in Bellingham, Washington state.