Thursday, March 26, 2009

Oil for Beginners.

Cooking with oil for the first time is kinda scary. What is even more intimidating is going to grocery stores and seeing just HOW many variety of oils there are. What if you are trying to eat healthy, aren't oils and fats bad for you?

No. There are bad kinds of oils and fats that you should limit, but oils and fats are important in diets, in small amounts. The molecules that compose of oils and fats are necessary for normal body processes.

The Bad Fats
Saturated Fats Saturated fats raise total blood cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol).
Trans Fats Trans fats raise LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and lower HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol).
The Good Fats
Monounsaturated Fats Monounsaturated fats lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and increase the HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol).
Polyunsaturated Fats Polyunsaturated fats also lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Omega 3 fatty acids belong to this group.

So which oils should you buy?

  • Good Cooking Oils:
    • canola oil
    • flax seed oil
    • peanut oil
    • olive oil
    • non-hydrogenated soft margarine
    • safflower oil
    • sunflower oil
    • corn oil
Apparently Veggie oil isn't that good for cooking with from what I've seen!
The bolded oils are oils that I use often. When you are on a budget, there is no need to get ALL of these unless a specific recipe calls for, say, peanut oil. But chances are most of your cooking can be done using Canola oil & Olive oil.

Cooking with Oil
Probably the most intimidating cooking material to work with is oil. Working with oil your first time, you aren't sure when the pan is hot, what to do and what not to do, how high to turn the stove up. Most of my friends are scared because oil will spit and while the spitting rarely causes burns, it certainly makes you fearful of going near the pan. It's okay! Cooking with oil doesn't have to be scary. Let's talk about some basics:

All oils have a "smoke point"
Smoke Point- the temperature at which a cooking fat or oil begins to break down. The substance smokes or burns, and gives food an unpleasant taste. Therefore, the smoke point of a given fat is a key consideration in frying, with the smoke point of the oil dictating what temperatures and therefore what purposes a particular fat may be used for (for instance, deep frying is a very high-temperature process and requires a fat with a high smoke point). Beyond the smoke point is the flash point, the point at which combustion occurs.

The smoke point of an oil lets you know how hot the oil to get before cooking with it becomes very dangerous. Olive oils are best for medium heat. Olive oils are not good for frying because their smoke point is often too low for adequate frying. If you need high heat for frying, it's better to use " refined safflower and sunflower oils, peanut, safflower and soy oils. Refined almond, avocado and cottonseed oil are also great if you can find and afford them, and canola oil is usually not a problem either." (Source)

When do I know when oil is ready?
When sauteing, using a small amount of oil, you do not need to coat the entire bottom, a dime-quarter size will be enough. Notice when you pour the oil out, the oil moves slowly (Faster than syrup but slower than water) Turn the stove on medium heat. When the oil moves around the pan with the consistency of water (meaning easily:P), the oil is ready for cooking.

Why does my oil always spit?
Spitting oil is normally caused by 2 things: A) The temperature is too high or B) What you are cooking has a high percentage of water. If you are cooking meat, chances are you have your temperature too high and the oil isn't happy. Turn the heat down slightly. My mom has a wonderful screen that fits over a 10 in saute pan to temper oil spitting. If you are on Medium heat, chances are the oil is fine and what you are COOKING has a high percentage of water (such as veggies). Oil and water do not mix. This is why when using a deep fryer for a thanksgiving turkey YOU NEED TO THAW THE TURKEY! Oil and water leads to fires if precautions aren't taken when using the deep fryer. Another note, when you are done cooking with the pan, let the oil cool before you decide to clean the pan, otherwise the hot oil will react with the water and potentially cause damage to you or your home.

Storytime: So this entry is more or less dedicated to my roommate, who refuses to cook with oil after a bad experience. She put some oil in a pan, heated in, added pork chops to the pan when the oil was ready. Well, the oil was too hot and started to smoke. I'm really not sure where my roommate was at this point or if she thought it was the meat cooking. Anyways, the pan caught on fire. On fire people. She screamed and her Chinese roommate came out and took the pan off the heat and dropped it on the tile floor. The picture on the left is the result. I don't know why they didn't reach for the fire extinguisher, it's in the kitchen.

I'm still scared of using Oil to cook with!
It's alright. Having a bad experience when cooking with oil will make most people nervous before doing it again. If you can get yourself a saute pan screen to reduce any oil spitting. If you can't afford, don't want to spend money until you know you can cook with oil, cover the pan with a normal lid. When you need to stir the contents to the pan, remove the pan from heat for about 30 seconds or until you don't hear the oil sizzling anymore.

When can I use butter?
If you want some light sauteing, butter is fine. My mom would normally melt a tsp of butter in a pan and throw some chicken in the pan. The chicken would lightly brown. Water can be added to this method of cooking. Butter has a low smoke point so you can easily burn butter. You won't fry anything with butter. I prefer using butter with more sweet dishes, like peaches I made a few weeks back.

More questions/answers can be found Here including the differences in the various Olive Oils, How to store oils, how long you should keep oils. Another great website more in detail about EVOO here

If I've forgotten anything or have anything incorrect up here, let me know! Most of this information comes from my own experience cooking and maybe I'm doing things incorrectly!


Ben said...

Nice article! Cooking with oil can be scary but knowing what is out there and how to use them is always good. Thanks for the info. :)

Marlow said...

Very nice! Two Saturdays ago I tasted a spoonful of walnut oil; it was decadent!!

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Peanut Oil for Frying