The difference between a beautiful sear and a smoke-filled kitchen often depends on using the right oil. The good news is that there’s no need for a bunch of bottles of oil taking up space in your pantry. For home cooking, it’s pretty simple.
First, let’s talk about a commonly misused oil – olive oil. Olive oil is NOT an all-purpose oil! I mention that because I was one of those misguided but well-intentioned home cooks who thought it was more healthy. I’m not here to debate health benefits; I’m just saying for cooking, is it’s not the end all – be all. Now, Olive oil IS excellent for low or medium-heat cooking, like sauteing. But, it’s NOT meant for frying or high-heat cooking. Olive oil has a low smoke point, meaning that it easily burns and literally will start to smoke at low temperatures. Also, part of the reason we love olive oil is the taste. Heat destroys the delicate flavor. So, save your extra virgin oils for salad dressing. The same holds true with flavored or finishing oils. They are fabulous for drizzling over veggies or making salad dressing – but not meant for cooking.
Several neutral-flavored oils work well for both low and high-heat cooking. These include Canola, Corn, Peanut, Soybean, Sunflower, and Vegetable oil. These workhorses can handle deep-frying, pan-frying, and sautéing.
Of these, Canola oil is the clear winner. It is affordable, neutral in flavor, and has a high enough smoke point to handle everything from pan-frying to steak searing. Canola oil is versatile, practical, and, added bonus — not very expensive. It can be used in various ways, from baking to grilling to stir-frying and salad dressings.
So there you go! The two must-have oils in your pantry are Canola oil for cooking and a good quality olive oil for salad dressings, drizzling, and flavoring.
Next time, we’ll discuss the basics and best practices for cooking with oil to get the best results.