How to Choose the Best Oil for Cooking

There are so many cooking and flavoured oils on the supermarket shelves these days, it can be quite daunting to know which one is best for which type of cooking. Whether you want to make a simple salad dressing, fry the crunchiest chips or make a marinade to flavour meat or fish, where do you start? Some oils naturally lend themselves to a particular form of cooking and others overpower the food or do not have a high enough frying temperature to crisp the outside of your vegetables. Follow our guide to choosing what oil goes with each cooking style and you will never be lost at the oil section again.

Roasting – a typical vegetable oil or even a sunflower oil are good for roasting, or, for a fuller flavour, try a good quality olive oil. When you roast, the oil should always be at a very high temperature to ensure the outside of the potatoes or vegetables are crisped up and the oil does not soak into the skin. There are some lovely flavoured olive oils with rosemary, garlic and chilli for a mediterranean feel to your dish.

Salad Dressings – a light oil such as grapeseed or a light olive oil are best for salad dressing as you are adding other flavours and you do not want to overpower the taste with a heavy oil flavour. As salad dressings typically have a vinegar incorporated with them you want to keep the ratio of oil to vinegar at 4 to 1 and add herbs, seasonings such as salt and pepper for a standard french vinaigrette.

Marinades – you can use an extra virgin olive oil for marinades as you are going to be adding some strong flavours to the oil and this oil can take them. If you are cooking fish however, you may want to use a slightly lighter olive oil depending on the type of fish; stronger tasting fish such as mackerel and salmon are fine with first pressed olive oils but a delicate fish like lemon sole would benefit from lighter oil such as grapeseed.

Oriental cooking – try a highly flavoured oil such as sesame or peanut oil for an authentic chinese taste. Use with meat and vegetable stir-fries and get the oil smoking hot before you add the chopped  prepared food as speed is of the essence with chinese cooking.  You do not want the food to be lying about in the wok or pan for too long.

Chips – these need an oil that has a high frying temperature so buy an oil such as vegetable or sunflower oil which have the highest frying temperatures. This ensures that the oil is hot enough to cook the outside quickly and evenly before it enters the food, forming a barrier which enables the inside to then cook without all the oil entering it and making it oil loaden and soggy. Most chip shops use sunflower oil and the best way to cook chips is to have the oil very hot when you first put them into the oil, then turn the temperature down to make sure they do not burn, then keep moving the chips around in the pan to ensure even cooking.

Flavoured Oils – it is easy to make your own and much cheaper than buying them from the supermarket. Take an ordinary olive oil and simply add a sprig of rosemary, a head of garlic or a chilli and leave to infuse for a couple of weeks and voilà! Your very own flavoured oil for a fraction of the price.

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