One of the ways we add heft, flavor, and satisfaction to our food is with fat. Yes, fat. Don’t run away! We know fat has a bad reputation with some, since it’s calorie dense and should, naturally, be enjoyed in moderation (you won’t find us frying our French fries around here). But chefs know that any meal will be more enjoyable and satisfying with a reasonable amount of oil or butter or gooey cheese, and we want to show you how to use fat in your cooking with a deft hand. So, let’s start with oil.
There are dozens of varieties of cooking and eating oils out there. Different cuisines tend to make use of different oils and you’ll find endless pages of advice about the health merits of each type. For now we want to tell you about three basics that we make use of most often.
**Your Guide to Cooking with Oil**
We consider olive oil the workhorse of the kitchen. If you only own one bottle of oil, this should be it. You can use the multi-purpose oil to sauté onions, crisp up tortillas, or dress salads. A decent supermarket brand of extra virgin olive oil will go a long way towards making your meals delicious, whether you heat it in a pan or drizzle it into your dressings.
If you find yourself getting excited about olive oil, however, run with it! Try picking up various imported varieties from your local gourmet market–you might start to notice that olive oils from Greece, Spain, Turkey, and France each look and taste a little bit different from one another. One tip: the pricier the oil, the more reason to save it for raw uses–in dressings, for dipping, or drizzled on a ripe tomato. That way you fully appreciate the flavor. In general, avoid heating olive oil to really high temperatures, which can cause it to break down and lose some health benefits.
As our subscribers know, olive oil is one of only three ingredients we ask customers to stock themselves, so it’s up to you–stick to the basics or see what happens if you branch out!
Vegetable oil is a more neutral option that comes in handy at a variety of different kitchen moments. Whenever you’re crisping ingredients like the above okra, as opposed to sautéing them, this oil works beautifully. You can heat it to a higher temperature than most olive oils, and it costs less too. Under the umbrella term “vegetable oil,” which refers to almost any oil that comes from a vegetable, our favorites are safflower, canola, avocado, and grapeseed oil, all of which have neutral flavors and heat up nicely. You don’t need to stock vegetable oil at home, but if you are looking to diversify, a bottle of vegetable oil is a great complement to your olive oil collection.
Fragrant toasted sesame oil distills the nutty essence of the sesame seed into a potent extract that’s delicious mixed into any stir-fry or Asian-style noodle dish. Sesame oil is what we call a finishing oil – you drizzle a bit on at or near the end of cooking, or even once your dinner’s off the stove. A little goes a long way! Note that heating toasted sesame oil will rob it of its deep flavor. (On the other hand, if you ever see unrefined sesame oil that doesn’t say “toasted,” use it like vegetable oil but don’t expect it to have the same rich flavor.)
Here’s to enjoying flavorful oil as part of a balanced meal! Stay tuned for our fat-filled meditations on butter, cream, cheese, and nuts.