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Chef Stacy believes that cooking from scratch and using the best ingredients are the secrets to preparing delicious and memorable meals. She has created dozens of classes for the home chef and teaches students how to master culinary techniques and recipes in just one session. Read on to see what she's dishing up for The Oakland Press today....

Friday, May 7, 2010

Just Say "No" to Cooking with "EVOO"

You might know it as that really yummy stuff called, “EVOO”. Chefs still call it “extra virgin olive oil”. Regardless of how you refer to it, extra virgin olive oil has been around for centuries, even though it seems like Rachel Ray just invented it.

Olive oil has a rich culinary and even medicinal history dating back to ancient times. There are countless different types of olive oil, and even more brands! When shopping for olive oil, you might find oils infused with figs, lemons, oranges, herbs and numerous other flavoring agents. Each brand might come from a different country – Spain, Italy, Greece, even the United States (California). Labels might read “cold press”, “first cold press”, “pure”, “light”, “blended” and more! So many choices - What’s a 30 minute meal warrior to do?

The simple (and wrong) answer is to just use “EVOO”.

Without overcomplicating matters, there are a few things you want to keep in mind when you’re selecting olive oil: Ask yourself what are you using it for and also taste.

1). ‘What are you using it for?” –
When thinking of cooking with olive oil, it makes sense to consider the “smoke point”. All oils have a smoke point. Simply put, the smoke point is the temperature at which the oil will start to smoke. This is the stage at which the heated fats begin to emit smoke and odors, which will impart an unpleasant taste to whatever you are preparing.

Butter has a smoke point of 350 degrees, while lard is higher at 361. Vegetable oil, peanut and safflower oils are much higher (441). Olive oil is 375. For this reason, it is sometimes better to use different types of oils for different applications. For example, if you are going to make a batch of hand-cut french fries, peanut oil is an excellent choice.

Another reason to avoid cooking with extra virgin olive oil is that olive oil has chlorophyll, and, when exposed to high temperatures, the chlorophyll will turn bitter. Because true extra virgin olive oil is so expensive, it is unwise to use extra virgin olive oil for sautéing because the flavor turns bitter when it reaches the right temperature for a sauté.

This isn’t to say that cooking with olive oil is wrong. Think of it like this- you wouldn’t use your best bottle of Dom Perignon to make a zabaglione; anything that made that champagne so special and unique is cooked out of the recipe before you can even taste it. The same would be true of using one of your best bottles of wine to deglaze a pan- it just doesn’t make sense. If you’re going to use olive oil as a cooking oil, consider using pure or a blended olive oil and consider the smoke point to determine which cooking techniques are appropriate.

Extra virgin olive oils are best used for drizzling, dipping, or enjoying in a dressing. Since these applications are not exposed to heat, the delicate and interesting flavors of the oil can really be appreciated.

2). Taste –
At Mirepoix, we use Acedemia Barrilla olive oils and balsamic vinegars. I like AB because of its clean, fresh flavor. Last week, someone brought in a different kind and when one of our students used it to make a vinaigrette, it was almost inedible! It took a lot of doctoring up to take away the bitter, “green” awful taste!

There are many very good tasting and high-quality olive oils on the market, but be selective, and don’t skimp! Good food starts with good ingredients. A $4 bottle of balsamic vinegar will TASTE like a $4 bottle of balsamic vinegar! The same principle applies to olive oil, and a million other ingredients. If your ingredients do not taste good on their own, a combination of inferior ingredients will not taste good either.

This summer, we will be featuring a series of free classes and tastings at Mirepoix. Our first tasting will be olive oils. For more information about Mirepoix, visit our website at If you’d like to be notified when the free tastings begin, sign up for our email newsletter on our homepage or become a fan of Mirepoix Cooking School on Facebook.

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Blogger Bill Bresler said...

You are right on about using the right oil. I must confess that if I'm dipping good crusty bread I prefer a cheaper strong-flavored oil. No subtle tastes for me.

May 8, 2010 at 10:31 PM 

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