Before you begin – Oils

Oil. Think carefully about which oil to use in a recipe. In 1997, canola oil was considered to be the best oil to use health-wise. Cooking oils all contain saturated fats, mono-unsaturated fats and poly – unsaturated fats in varying proportions. Canola oil (and Grapeseed oil) has the biggest proportion of ‘good’ fats and the lowest proportion of ‘bad’ fats. In addition it also contains Omega 3 fatty acids, usually found in fish. These Omega 3 acids prevent the blood from clotting and are therefore considered very important in preventing heart disease. They are also important in reducing inflammation in some kinds of arthritis, in preventing asthma, in the development of the brain and in maintaining a healthy retina of the eye.

Less than a year later, some experts were saying that olive oil was the healthiest way to cook. To hedge my bets, I tend to cook with both…canola or grapseed oil for general cooking, seafood and Asian food, olive oil for all Mediterranean-style cooking. I still prefer the flavour (or rather the lack of it) of grape seed oil for fish cooking, and because grape seed oil rates fairly highly on the scale of ‘good oils’, I will still use it for cooking fish.

Ironically, however, in 2004 it was announced that vegetable oils, and in particular, canola oil was responsible for causing macular degeneration of the eye and was causing blindness in quite young people. So you can use butter and die of heart disease or use vegetable oil and go blind!

Once upon a time, I used peanut oil almost exclusively, and always for Asian cooking. These days I won’t even have it in the pantry. The incidence of peanut allergies has risen so dramatically over the last few decades that it is just not worth it.

Even the tiniest amount of peanut oil served to a person with a peanut allergy could result in death and I am just not prepared to take that risk.

I still use butter for some cooking. I cannot make a bechamel sauce without it, try as I might. I use butter for cooking liver as butter gives liver a better colour.

Just a word about olive oil. The flavour of olive oil is completely foreign to all Asian countries with the exception of Macau. (Macanese cuisine is a unique blend of Chinese and Portuguese cooking.) Most Asian cuisines use peanut (but see above) or sunflower oil. Canola oil is fine too. In Asian cooking the oil is simply a cooking medium; in Mediterranean cooking the flavour of the olive oil is important. Never use olive oil when preparing an Asian dish.

Olive oil is made by pressing the olives a number of times. The best oil comes from the first pressing. This is called ‘Extra Virgin’, and the oil produced is usually a fairly deep green. The second pressing produces ‘Virgin’ Olive oil, which is slightly lighter in colour. The third produces ‘Classic’ or ‘Classico’, which is usually a fairly deep gold in colour. Then come the final pressings producing ‘Light’ and ‘Extra Light’ Olive Oil. These are generally despised by the true Italian and Provencal cooks, but for our tastes, they are less overpowering than the earlier pressings. All are pure oil and all contain the same amount of fat. It is a flavour choice, not a health choice. Extra virgin olive oil contains the same amount of fat as extra light olive oil.

It is a myth that adding oil to the water when cooking pasta stops the pasta from sticking. All it does is inhibit the ability of the pasta sauce from adhering to the pasta.

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