If it’s health benefits you’re looking for, Julie Conquer, Food scientist at Guelph University says you can’t beat canola oil. It’s extremely low in saturated fats and high in acid, which reduces bad cholesterol. And it’s a good way to get essential omega 3 and 6 fatty acids which are important to growth, vision and might help chronic diseases like arthritis, too.
It’s also cheap – costing about $3.00 a litre in Canada these days.
Canola oil is best used for cooking and frying, but Chef Forestell says there’s an extra-virgin version made in Alberta which is fine for cold applications. You can also get cold-pressed and extra virgin sunflower oils, which are fine for salads, too.
Chef Eric Brennan, now Executive Chef of Boston’s Excelsior talked to me about cooking oils back when he was leading the troops at Toronto’s Four Season’s Restaurant. Brennan said he likes grape-seed oil (don’t forget his Carrot Ginger Vinaigrette recipe made with grape-seed oil), and also mixes canola with olive oil for sauteeing. Canola’s mild flavor is a good base and it increases olive oil’s flash point. (Here’s some olive oil dispensers you may like)
Nut Oil for Perfect Finishes
For terrific finishes, you might try nut oils like hazelnut and walnut. At $10 and up for 250 ml, they are pricey, but the strong flavors mean they are to be used sparingly.
“They’re not to be cooked with, but used cold or as a dressing,” says Brennan. “They’ve got a pretty powerful flavor. You can make a terrific vinaigrette, say a raspberry vinaigrette with hazelnut oil. And you should actually add a neutral oil like grape-seed or safflower, because hazelnut’s pretty potent.”
Flavoured Oils: Truffle, Cilantro, Yellow Pepper, Tomato
Both Forestell and Brennan are fans of infused and flavored oils, too.
“We use tons of truffle oil,” says Brennan. It’s a great way to get the flavor of truffles into a dish without dropping really big bucks for the real thing.
Be Careful when Making Infused Oils
Recipes for infused oils abound for do-it-yourself, but do take care to keep homemade infusions refrigerated and use them within a week. According to Alexis Grolla, Microbiology specialist with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, organic matter submerged in oil can be a deadly breeding ground for botulism. Commercial products are generally safe, says Grolla. (Though you might check ingredients for salt or an acid like vinegar before you buy.) The biggest danger is with homemade products. Don’t buy anything from a craft fair or country market that’s more than a week old. And always refrigerate all infused oils after opening – even commercial ones.
In closing, Forestell would also like to wave a flag for a forgotten old friend: butter.
“It’s become a bit of a bogeyman, which is unfortunate. You don’t really need to use that much. You can mix butter with a pure oil to increase the flash point. It lends a wonderful aroma and taste and color. They should take butter out of the closet, just like they took eggs out of the closet.” Alternatively, you can cook them in an egg cooker.
Canadian butter wins prizes and is considered second in the world only to Normandy butter. Forestell loves it for sauteeing some meats.
And remember, Italians use lots – choosing it second only to, well, you know…
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