The other day I was drawn to a recipe for homemade fish sticks with a yummy looking spicy dipping sauce. It was featured on a food website that touts made-from-scratch meals with gorgeous pictures that get me every time. I love both fish and panko (crisp Japanese breading), so naturally a recipe that combines them would attract me. I'm also a sucker for homemade mayonnaise (fancy name -- aioli), even though it calls for ½ cup of oil and several egg yolks. But when I got to the part of the recipe that called for deep-frying the fish sticks in four inches of oil, I hesitated. Although the recipe seemed easy to make and the picture made my mouth water, but I just couldn't bring myself to slosh four inches of oil into a pan on a weekday night.
I don't do much deep-frying (and still haven't tried the fish stick recipe), but I do use plenty of oil for sautéing, frying and roasting. Whether it's chicken, latkes at Chanukah time or roasted vegetables, oil is essential to many, if not most of my main and side dish recipes. It's also a staple of my salad dressings.
So I got to thinking about oil and tips for using it. Experienced cooks may not find much new in these tips. But for those who find the array of cooking oils in the grocery store to be mystifying, if not confounding, these tips may help.
10 Tips on Using Oil for Cooking:
- Types of oil -- Oils can be processed from any of a number of different vegetables or nuts, or some combination. Common types include canola, coconut, corn, grapeseed, olive, peanut, safflower, sesame, soybean, sunflower and walnut.
- Taste -- Oils have different tastes. Some taste as you would expect; e.g. walnut oil has a nutty flavor. While I would describe the taste of olive oil simply as distinctive, connoisseurs distinguish among various brands as they would good wines. Sesame oil, frequently used in small quantities in Asian cooking, has a heavy and pungent taste. Canola oil is bland, allowing the flavors of food cooked in it to come through.
- Uses -- When cooking, keep oil below its smoking point. Here's a handy chart for the smoking points of various oils. Although type is not the sole factor in determining the actual smoking point; (it also depends, in part, on the age of quality of the oil), at least the chart will give you a general idea of which oils are good for specific types of cooking.
- Labels -- Oil labeled as "vegetable" can include any type or a blend. Read the fine print for the specific composition of a particular brand. I just checked Wesson, Mazola and Giant vegetable oils. Those three are soybean oil according to their ingredient labels.
- Cooking spray -- If want to save calories by using less oil and don't mind using an aerosol spray (for environmental or other reasons), cooking spray is a good alternative for oiling a baking or frying pan.
For tips #6-10 and recipes using modest amounts of cooking oil, click here.