04-The Right Oil

Serves: 5



To some cooks, devoted to a low-fat diet, there will never be a "right" fat. Yet fat is an essential nutrient, along with protein and carbohydrates, and shouldn't be removed completely from our diet, though of course it also shouldn't be consumed to excess. Most people would be better off if they substituted the daily bag of chips with their sandwich with pretzels or an apple, the better to indulge in sensational homemade potato chips at their next party. Also, at home, you are in control of the kind of fat you use. If you don't indulge in deep-fried foods on a regular basis, use the fat that gives the best results for the food being cooked. In the recipes in this book, you can use whatever fat you prefer, but I have listed my preference in each ingredient list.

Saturated fats, such as vegetable shortening and lard, should be consumed in moderate amounts, as too much will begin to reduce the amount of "good" HDL-cholesterol in our systems. Vegetable shortening, because it is more highly refined than vegetable oil, fries with the least amount of odor, and I use it for most of my deep-frying. Lard is a very flavorful frying medium and is great when you want an old-fashioned taste. Vegetable oil is a more healthful alternative. If possible, use a professional-grade deep-frying oil. Previously available only through restaurant suppliers, it is now easy to find at wholesale grocers and price clubs in five-quart plastic containers. Of all the frying mediums I've tested, this left the least aroma and gave the best results. Five quarts may seem like a lot of deep-frying oil (you wouldn't want to use it like regular oil for other kinds of cooking), but if you are making a lot of special holiday dishes, it will be very handy. It also has a long shelf life.

Many cooks prefer peanut, canola, or soybean oils for deep-frying, none of which impart a strong taste to the food. When cooking Chinese food, I use peanut or soybean oil for their complementary flavors. Grapeseed oil, which many European chefs recommend, is a good deep-frying oil, but hard to find and expensive. To my taste, corn and safflower oils are a little too heavy for deep-frying. Never use Asian dark sesame or walnut oils--they are seasoning oils, not cooking oils, and will smoke at a low temperature.

Olive oil is an excellent choice, especially when cooking Italian specialties, but it will add its flavor to the food (which can be a good thing). Olive oil raises the "good" HDL-cholesterol level, so it's a healthy choice, too.

Unfortunately, deep-frying in olive oil is expensive--in America. In Italy, olive oil is cheap, and many of my Italian friends insist on using olive oil for deep-frying. They figure, sensibly, that if they only deep-fry for special occasions, why not use the best? When I deep-fry in olive oil, I am happy with a moderate-priced golden olive oil, and save the green-hued extra-virgin oil for the salad bowl.

Often, cooks make an issue out of an oil's smoking point. The smoking point is the temperature at which an oil starts to give off a light blue haze and "break down" into separate components that can cause it to acquire an off taste or even catch fire. However, deep-fried food should never be cooked above 400°F, which is near the smoking point of most oils. So as long as the oil doesn't get overheated, smoking isn't a real problem.

Some cooks strain, refrigerate, and reuse fat a few times before they finally throw it away, but I think that's a poor idea. I never use deep-frying fat a second time. Every time fat is heated, it breaks down a little more, which increases the fat's saturation level and affects its flavor, odor, smoking point, and flash point (the temperature at which it could ignite). Fat also picks up the flavor of whatever was cooked in it, so you could get shrimp-flavored cookies if you lose track. Just factor in the cost of fresh deep-frying fat along with the cost of the other ingredients, and do your tastebuds a favor.

Store oil and shortening in a dark, cool place, where it will keep for up to 3 months. Never store deep-frying fat of any kind (except lard) in the refrigerator. Oil solidifies when chilled, and would then need to be brought to room temperature to liquify. Chilled fat will splatter when heated, making a dangerous situation. If using lard, let it stand at room temperature for 1 hour before heating to remove the chill. I encourage you to buy fresh fat every time you deep-fry, and then you won't have to worry about where to store it for any length of time.

To discard vegetable oil, let it come to room temperature before pouring it into a large jar with a tight-fitting lid. To discard shortening, let it cool completely and return to its solid state. Then scrape it into its original container and dispose of it.

This 04-The Right Oil recipe is from the Fried & True: Crispy and Delicious Dishes from Appetizers to Desserts Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.

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