From dipping and drizzling to sauteing and searing, olive oil is one of the most versatile — and most important — ingredients in the kitchen. The best oils for each dish depend on the cooking technique you’re using and the other flavors and ingredients present. For guidelines, we turned to Nancy Ash, education coordinator at the California Olive Oil Council — read on below.
It’s a misconception that you shouldn’t use extra-virgin olive oils for cooking. In fact, clear, unfiltered oils have a high smoke point and are well suited to all kinds of methods. Since oil carries flavor, the most important thing is that you love the taste and character of the oil you’re using. The flavor will infuse the rest of the ingredients and, ideally, enhance the entire dish.
Sauteing: Choose a mild and buttery oil for sauteing vegetables, whether they form the foundation of soups and sauces or shine on their own, with a pinch of salt. However, a recipe with very salty ingredients will pair well with a robust oil.
Poaching: Here’s a flavorful — and forgiving — method for cooking foods, such as delicate fish fillets. Just place ingredients in a shallow bath of oil and heat until cooked through. Use a mild oil that won’t compete with the flavor of the dish.
Searing: Brown meat and seafood in olive oil for added flavor. Just make sure you don’t overheat the oil, or the dish will taste burnt. A medium, fruity oil works well for searing, but robust oils will stand up best to high heat and short cooking times.
Frying: Don’t use your most expensive oil for deep-frying, as you’ll need a lot of it. Choose a mild oil and make sure it is filtered, without cloudiness or sediment. Try it for making Italian fritto misto.
Baking: Substitute a mild, buttery olive oil for butter in cakes to create a moist texture and add depth of flavor. A good rule of thumb is to use 3/4 cup oil per 1 cup butter.
Extra-virgin olive oils take center stage when used simply, drizzled over finished dishes or incorporated into dressings. Let ingredients guide your choice of oil; pair robust oils with strongly flavored foods and mellow ones with mild dishes.
Dipping: Dip good bread in extra-virgin olive oil for a simple, satisfying appetizer. Mix herbs and spices with a medium oil or garlic and anchovies with a robust oil.
Vinaigrettes & Sauces: Pair the oil’s style with the other ingredients in the dish, such as a mild oil in a lemon vinaigrette or a medium one with balsamic vinegar. Use a robust oil in dressings containing garlic and shallots.
Drizzling: A drizzle of robust extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of sea salt add the perfect finishing touch to a variety of foods, from fresh mozzarella and sliced tomatoes to roasted meats or a bowl of pasta.