Where would a chef be without oil? Whether we’re dipping pieces of rustic bread in a dish of smooth extra virgin olive oil or finishing a grilled steak with a drizzle of sesame oil, it’s an ingredient no foodie can be without.
Take a stroll down the oil aisle at the supermarket. The number of options may tempt you to run screaming to a pound of salted butter. Olive oil or extra virgin olive oil? Opt for walnut oil or for once and for all try coconut oil? There are a lot of oils out there. Figuring out which one to use can seem baffling, but there are a few easy tricks to whittle down the options. The following are some of my favorite cooking oils, how to use them and what you need to know about each.
First, some definitions…
Cold-pressed: A technique of extracting oil by simple pressure and without the use of chemicals. When choosing oil, always look for cold-pressed.
Smoke point: The temperature where oil begins to smoke and release a rancid flavor to the food. The higher an oil’s smoke point, the better suited it is to high temperatures.
Finishing oil: A last drizzle of oil before you serve to add flavor, moisture and a touch of visual appeal to your dish
Olive oil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
What: A heart-healthy monounsaturated oil extracted from pressing tree-ripened olives
Flavor: Varies depending on the growing region, but in general the darker the color, the more intense the olive flavor
Uses: Regular olive oil is good for cooking and grilling on lower heats (under 350 degrees F), salads, marinades and Mediterranean dishes. Never heat up extra virgin olive oil. It’s delicate flavor works best for dressings, dipping and to drizzle over veggies and finished dishes like steak and pasta.
Need to know: Olive oils are graded by the amount of acidity they contain. Extra virgin and virgin olive oils come from the very first press; virgin is just a hair more acidic. Fino olive oil is a mixture of extra virgin and virgin.
What: From grape seeds, grown primarily in France, Italy, Switzerland and the US.
Flavor: not much flavor at all
Uses: With a high smoke point (up to roughly 420 degrees F), grapeseed is the oil of choice for high heat cooking like stir-frying or sautéing.
Need to know: A huge by-product of winemaking, grapeseed oil is also used widely in cosmetics.
What: Made from rapeseeds, canola is lower in saturated fats than any other oil and contains a powerful amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats too.
Uses: With a smoke point up to 375 degrees F, canola is good for cooking, but also offers a mild base to marinades and dressings.
Need to know: Canola is the most popular oil in Canada. Be beware, heat breaks down the oil’s omega-3 fatty acids.
What: A heart-healthy oil, extracted from sesame seeds
Flavor: The lighter-colored variety is delicate and nutty; the darker toasted Asian type is more intensely sesame.
Uses: With a smoke point to rival grapeseed, sesame can be used for cooking at high temperatures, however, the robust flavor may be far too strong for cooking anything but Asian-style dishes. A beautiful finishing oil, sesame makes salads and dressings pop.
Need to know: In India, people use sesame oil as a mouth rinse to prevent cavities. (It contains lots of calcium!)
Nut oils (walnut, almond, macademia, etc.)
What: Extracted from their respective nuts
Flavor: Delicate toasted nut flavor
Uses: Nut oils break down quickly when heated, so use only as finishing oils.
Need to know: Nut oils are very sensitive to heat and light. Always keep them in the fridge.
One of my new favorite oils is a bit hard to find. Argan oil comes from the kernels of the argan tree in Morocco. Its roasted nutty flavor has made it a favorite of chefs for finishing dishes, dressings and dipping bread.
Tip #1: Store all oil in a cool, dark place. Light and heat break down oils, turning them rancid. Look for olive oil and nut oils in darkly colored glass bottles.
Tip #2: Add a bit of flavor to your oil by infusing them with garlic, chilis, herbs or citrus peels. Just be sure to store them in the refrigerator to preserve them.
Tip #3: Buy oils in small amounts and use it up. Even under the best storage conditions, oil breaks down over time.
Corn has multiple personalities. Sweet and juicy, the pale yellow veggie is the very nature of summer. But with a growing season that stretches into October, corn also has the richness and depth to hold up to autumn’s heartier cool-weather dishes. Which means, there’s no end to what you can do with corn.
Grilled corn on the cob makes a slightly sweet snack or side dish. Boiling or steaming works great too, especially if you’re in the mood for clean, bright flavor. Squeeze a bit of lime and sprinkle with salt and pepper before eating. There’s really no limit what you can do with the fresh kernels of corn. They add a touch of juiciness to quesadillas and mixed salads and lend their sweetness to a chunky salsa or relish. Add to potpies and pasties; corn gives these rich baked dishes a hint of crunchiness. Reduce the corn to make a pudding-like sauce or show off their sweetness by making some homemade sweet corn ice cream.
Get creative. But first, you’ll need to pick up some fresh corn.
To buy: As soon as it’s picked, corn’s natural sugars begin to turn to starch, which over time robs the cobs of their sweetness. Head to your farmers’ market or supermarket and ask when the corn was picked. You want to buy it as close to picking as possible.
Look for: Ears with bright green husks that fit snugly against the corn. The silk should be a golden brown and a little sticky (which shows you that the corn was picked recently). Peek inside the husks. The kernels should be plump, spaced tightly and visible all the way to the tip of the ear.
Use it or lose it: Corn will taste best if you use it within a day of buying it. Corn will stay sweet up to 3 days if you tightly wrap the ears in a plastic bag and keep in the fridge.
Kinds: Yellow, aka Golden Bantam, has large kernels and a strong corn flavor. White, or Country Gentleman, are smaller and sweeter tasting, while butter and sugar, a mix of white and yellow, offers up the best of both worlds. Indian corn has red, blue, brown and purple kernels. We see it used mostly as decoration but it’s edible. Just don’t cook up the centerpiece. It’s definitely been dried and probably coated with varnish.
Go organic: There’s a lot of talk these days about genetically modified organisms, whether they carry health risks, their impact on agriculture and whether GMO foods should be clearly labeled. Some 61 percent of corn grown in the US is genetically modified. To avoid GMO, you have to buy organic.
I first fell in love with corn eating my mum’s gorgeous muffins, which inspired these Corn and Bacon Muffins with Herb Butter.