When it comes to cooking oil, we see a lot of headlines about what’s good and what’s bad. Today it’s olive oil, tomorrow it’s coconut oil. Next week, they’re both villains. What’s a sautéing aficionado to do? That depends. We will tell you which oils are best for you, but to fully understand their scope, here’s a little cooking lesson, first.
So what do you use cooking oil for?
Technically, cooking is the application of heat to food for the purpose of making it more digestible, more palatable, safer to eat, and to change its appearance and taste. Cooking with fats and oils provide lubrication, flavor and a means to extract, infuse and create new flavors.
Here’s an example of how I often use oil: Infusing one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil with fresh minced garlic, freshly grated lemon zest, fresh chiffonade of basil, a pinch of kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper will work wonders as a rub for fresh salmon or combined with one tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice as a vinaigrette dressing for fresh garden tomatoes.
Cooking Methods to Use (and Not Use) Oil For
Frying is the process of cooking a larger piece of food in a greater amount of fat for a longer period of time. But forget about frying—there is nothing beneficial for our health by frying foods and the process only promotes free radicals in cooking oils. Sauté is a similar process—the difference is that you cook smaller pieces of food in smaller amounts of fat for shorter periods of time. Sautéing can be done low and slow, as in making a frittata or dry sautéing without any oils if desired. An example would be to sweat onions in a partially covered pot low and slow for a longer period of time.
Baking, broiling, barbecuing, braising, stewing and (my personal favorite) wilting can be done with or without oil. All of these cooking methods can be done low, slow and for short times by making foods small and selecting foods that require less cooking. Example: You can make spinach taste amazing by lightly heating a teaspoon of fresh chopped garlic in one teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil until fragrant (about one minute) then add three cups of fresh cleaned spinach stems removed. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and stir until just wilted and serve—it’s fabulous
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