Have you heard? You can’t deep fry with olive oil! Its smoking point is too low and it becomes bitter, etc. Funny that people in the Mediterranean regions, who know a lot more than us about olive oil, deep fry more often with olive oil than any other oil. In other words, what you’ve heard is bunk. You absolutely can deep fry with olive oil. Mario Batali has been seen doing it more than once on television. Since people are always looking for a healthy oil for deep frying, and Olive oil is among the healthiest oils, its a shame this myth has existed.
What is the Smoking Point of Olive Oil?
Not all olive oils will have the same smoking point. For example, if you have a fancy unfiltered extra virgin olive oil, it will have a lower smoking point, especially due to the solid “stuff” in the oil. On average, the smoking point of olive oil is around 410° F. Many sources give inaccurate lower temperatures, perhaps based on outdated sources. 410° gives you plenty of leeway for deep frying, as long as you realize that this is an average so you wouldn’t want to push it to the max.
However, you must keep in mind that the idea that an oil is ruined if it smokes is also a myth. An oil can smoke a bit and still be fine if you let it cool down some before using. You want to avoid smoking, but it is not always the kiss of death.
What’s the Problem, Then?
Olive oil is expensive! Most home cooks will not want to use 6 or 8 cups of olive oil to deep fry something. And, since canola oil, peanut oil, or vegetable oil (which is really soybean oil) is much more simple and forgiving, not to mention way cheaper, most people will stick to these oils for deep frying.
However, you do not need to use the most expensive extra virgin olive oil for deep frying. You certainly can deep fry with an extra virgin oil, and although not all of them will perform the same, the biggest detriment is the price. So, other than extra virgin, which most people have heard of, what are the other types?
First, when we say types of olive oil, we really mean grades of olive oil. The Olive Oil Source provides a good guide, along with links to further information, on the basic grades of olive oil. Although they are still not cheap, you can deep fry with a virgin olive oil or a lower grade. Some cooks deep fry with pomace olive oils, which are probably not readily available to must U.S. cooks. A refined olive oil may be you best bet, with the least potential for smoking at lower temperatures.
Another olive oil deep frying myth is that, due to its lower smoking point, olive oil cannot be used for repeated frying. This is an assumption based on the idea that any oil with a low smoking point will not hold up and will become altered and bitter. Assumptions should be tested, and on testing, olive oil has been found to be remarkably stable during repeated deep frying, even more stable than sunflower, cottonseed, corn, soybean, and other oils. The reason for this is the high antioxidant content.
This does not mean you can just use olive oil over and over like a fry cook uses oil for short order cooking, but you can certainly use it two or three times. The health effects of deep frying with olive oil, which are quite favorable, will be somewhat lost over repeated fryings, however.
Remember the TASTE
Olive oil is a healthy oil with which to deep fry. It also tastes good. The problem is that this good taste is also a strong taste. You do not always want the oil you use to influence the taste of a fried food. What some people don’t realize, though, is that when you deep fry, less of the oil is absorbed into the food than when you saute, and even then, most of the flavor characteristics of olive oil are lost during the cooking process, yet another reason not to use an expensive extra virgin oil. However, the idea that the type of oil that you saute or fry in does not matter is false. Oil has more or less flavor, depending on its source and degree of refinement. Olive oil, even the cheap stuff, has more flavor than vegetable oil.
Not many Southerners would want their fried chicken to taste of olive oil. And even if it doesn’t taste distinctly of olive oil, it will taste different than what they are used to. On the other hand, olive oil fried French fries or potato chips can be a great treat. It is also very popular for frying fish. Fran Gage, in this article, talks about making french fries with extra virgin olive oil for a tasting event, saying “They were glorious, with a cleaner taste than any fried potato I have ever had.”
Olive Oil Poaching
Although most have heard of deep frying in oil, not many have heard of poaching in oil. Usually, we think of poaching as something done in water or a broth. But, really, you can poach in any liquid, and oil is a liquid.
Instead of quickly frying the food, you are cooking it slowly in a bath of olive oil. When fish is cooked this way, the result is a moist, succulent, silky, and flavorful fish that retains its flavor. No, it will not be oily.
You can poach salmon, halibut, tuna, swordfish, snapper, cod or even shrimp. In fact, for halibut, a fish that so easily dries out, olive oil poaching is ideal. The basic method is to put you pre-seasoned fish fillets in a skillet or other ovenproof pan, large enough to fit all the fish and then cover it with olive oil. Once the fish is in the pan, pour in enough olive oil to cover the fish (did I repeat myself?). You can then take out the fish and lay it aside. Add a bit of lemon to the olive oil, if desired, and then heat it to around 120 to 125 degrees, which is just warm enough not to burn your finger, although it is best to use a thermometer. Once the oil is warmed, put the fish back into the pan and place in a 175 degree oven. Poach for around 25 minutes.
Here is a recipe for olive oil poached salmon, with further notes and instructions. The same method can be used for any fish you want to poach.
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