Monday, February 22, 2010

5 Oils Every Pantry Should Have

Whether you consider yourself a gourmet chef or simply enjoy cooking good food, using the right oil for your dish is crucial. If you make your own salad dressings, you'll want a flavorful oil -- but for frying and sauteing, you'll need an oil with a high smoke point to avoid unpleasant burnt flavors. Here are five basic oils every well-stocked pantry should have:

1. Peanut Oil: This is an excellent choice for stir-frying, deep-fat frying and other high-heat applications, because of its very high smoke point. If you want to fry a turkey, you'll want to use peanut oil. It's subtly nutty flavor is terrific with poultry, french fries and stir-fry dishes. Of course, if peanut allergies are a problem at home, then you'll want to avoid peanut oil and instead use a different high-smoke-point oil such as corn or soybean.

2. Corn Oil: Another oil with a high smoke point, corn oil is virtually tasteless and odorless, making it ideal for frying and searing when you want the unchanged flavors of the food to come through. It's great for deep frying and also sauteing, as well as baking.

3. Canola Oil: This all-purpose, mildly flavored oil is naturally low in saturated fat and rich in heart-friendly Omega-3 fatty acids. You can use it in salad dressings, especially ones where you want the flavor of other ingredients to come through, and also in all sorts of cooking and baking.

4. Pure Olive Oil: Sometimes simply labeled "olive oil" (as opposed to virgin or extra virgin), this is the mildest and also most economical of olive oils and can be used in sauteing and pan-frying. Because its smoke point is lower than that of corn, soybean or peanut oil, it's not recommended for deep frying or other high-temperature applications. I don't use it in baking sweets because it does have a distinct flavor, but I like it in savory baking recipes such as breads and savory muffins. You can also use pure olive oil in salad dressings, although the more expensive and fruitier extra-virgin olive oil is a tastier choice for simple vinaigrettes where the flavor of the oil will play a more important role.

5. Extra Pure Olive Oil: This is the highest grade of olive oil, made from the first pressing, and is aromatic, fruity and deeper in color, making it ideal for drizzling on salads and veggies or using in salad dressings and other applications where you want its rich flavor to shine. Because of its low smoke point, it's not recommended for frying or sauteing. And it's also more perishable, so I prefer to buy a smaller bottle of a higher quality rather than running the risk that a larger bottle will go rancid before I use it all.

Of course, there are many other oils out there, from the ubiquitous "vegetable oil" (which is soybean oil), to fancy and flavorful (and highly perishable) nut oils like walnut, to flavored or infused oils with chili peppers or herbs. If you love to cook and to try new recipes, you'll want to have some of those, too. But at a minimum, you can't go wrong with the basic five oils above.

Zestfully yours,
Carolina Sauce Company

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