I use the following fats for most of my cooking: olive oil, ghee and coconut oil.
I’ll occasionally use butter for low temperature frying, like for French Toast and, of course, for baking. If I have it around, duck or beef fat, but those are usually for very specific dishes, like potatoes.
Regarding all, health is foremost. And that also means flavour is foremost.
Coconut oil: it’s saturated, but that’s not a bad thing if you’ve followed science beyond the 1960s. It’s heat stable, meaning it won’t change its nature on you at high temperatures. That quality is perfect for high-temperature shallow frying (think stir fry). I get extra virgin which leaves a pleasant, but faint, coconut taste. Look in your grocer’s organic section.
Ghee is clarified butter, meaning all the milk solids and water are cooked out of it. Butter fat is mostly saturated meaning it’s heat stable as well. I use it for such things as pan frying meat or quesadillas. It’s got a smell reminiscent of movie popcorn butter. Look in the Indian foods section for ghee.
For olive oil, oy. I don’t know where to start or end. You see, I read Extra Virginity and I just don’t know. Is the olive oil in my grocery store even olive oil? Is it well past due? Is it from Italy? It’s a mess. But that book makes a compelling case for including it in my diet all the same. While reading that book, I wanted to slather everything I ate in olive oil.
I have two kinds of olive oil in my cupboard: plain old olive oil, for cooking, and an extra virgin olive oil, for eating (in dressings and such). After a certain temperature (called its smoke point), an oil will start smoking and begin to undergo chemical changes that are bad for us to ingest. And taste awful. It’s why you would never ever use flax oil, which is highly unsaturated, for cooking. This had me paranoid about using EVOO while cooking.
But after reading Extra Virginity, I’ve been a little more inclined lately to try EVOO for cooking, depending on the dish, especially for quick cooking at medium temperatures. Any meat going to the grill will get a light coat of olive oil, for instance; or, when I’m not being fancy, on potatoes for roasting.
So what to get? Before that book I was blissfully buying plain old olive oil for cooking. It was very easy to buy: just get the cheapest olive oil, but not the light tasting one. And I still do that. But now I know it just may not be olive oil. So, if you’ve read this far, now that may not sit right with you either. As for what extra virgin to buy, I’m still looking around. Luckily, Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity, has set up a great resource for picking an extra virgin olive oil.
With the exception of olive oil, it’s pretty simple, right? What’s more interesting to me is what’s not on the list. And what’s on the list, but isn’t used for cooking. But that’s another post.