The Best Oil To Use – Olive Or Vegetable
When I was a line cook in my first assignment, we normally used three types of oil.
The first was a standard, no-fuss vegetable oil used primarily for filling the deep fryer. The second was a fancy-seeming extra-virgin olive oil — ‘finishing oil’ — which was used judiciously, with the head chef drizzling a bit of it onto plates just before they went out to the premium customers sitting in one corner of the dining room. The third one was a mysteriously-named substance in a yellow jug called ‘blended oil’ which, as its name suggested, was an economical mix of sunflower seed and at times the head chef used canola oil and (an apparently nominal amount of) extra-virgin olive oil.
Thinking back, it probably tasted pretty lousy, but it was our go-to, used in abundance for pan frying, vinaigrettes, aioli (aïoli is a cold sauce consisting of an emulsion of garlic and olive oil; it is found in the cuisines of the northwest Mediterranean), and just about everything else you could think of.
I never encountered that strange blended oil when I started my food audit job, but started to think about it again after doing some research. I finally got serious about stocking high-quality extra-virgin olive oil exclusively.
I faced two problems. The first was that my favourite brands were expensive — a smallish bottle could easily add twenty dollars to my grocery bill—and disappeared alarmingly fast.
The second problem was, counter intuitively, how good these oils tasted. I started to find that the same peppery, green-grassy flavours that I loved in these extra-virgin olive oils could easily overpower simple vinaigrettes and palate-satisfying delicate sautés; I simultaneously had too much flavour to play with.
Suddenly, that yellow jug of blended oil started to make more sense. Thus I began to experiment with my own hybrid oils at home. When I picked up a nice tin of extra-virgin, I would measure out a cup of it and combine it in a squeeze bottle with around two cups of good neutral oil like rice bran or sunflower. This way, I could still have some pure stuff in reserve for times when I wanted Big Olive Oil Energy — finishing a grilled meat protein, or drizzling over bowls of pureed soup — pureed soups or potages purées are soups, that are thickened through pureeing their main ingredients.
Main ingredients for most pureed soups are pulses, vegetables or potatoes. Those ingredients define the type, taste and thickness of the soup, but also had great-tasting workhorse oil I could reach for without fear that it would take over a dish (or bankrupt me).
The exact ratio of my house blends vary depending on the olive oil I’m working with — I tend to dilute really potent ones more and milder ones less — and on what dish I’m planning on using my blended oil for.
Say I’m going to use the oil raw, like vinaigrette. Don’t believe the hype that every vinaigrette recipe should have one part acid to three parts oil. This more assertive ratio brings a lot more flavour to the table. But use your gut feeling of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper as per your taste. But this mix of oil gives a fantastic taste. Just whisk oil and lemon juice in a small bowl or shake in a re-sealable jar to emulsify; with seasoning of your choice.
The other sauce is Salsa Verde where you can experiment. Salsa Verde is really easy to make from scratch, all you need are tomatillos. One can use green tomatoes, onion, jalapeño, lime, and cilantro. Mexican Salsa Verde also goes by ‘tomatillo salsa’ or ‘green salsa.’
Tomatillos — seedy green fruits that resemble small green tomatoes covered in thin, papery husks — are the main ingredient in Mexican Salsa Verde. Make the Salsa Verde by either boiling them, broiling them in the oven, or pan roasting them, But the best is the grandma method which every Odia knows. Instead of the mustard oil, use the yellow mix.
If one wants a hearty olive oil flavour but doesn’t want it to overwhelm, go for a 2:1 ratio of neutral to olive oil. If used for sautéing or roasting — and olive oil has to be more of a background flavour — go for 3:1 or 4:1.
For the road: Any ratio will save you money and cut down on olive overload. So when a blend that works for you, use it judiciously. Use it to poach fish, roast root vegetables or simple vegetables, fry eggs and omelettes, or caramelise onions. You may find that the dilution actually helps you taste the complexity of the olive oil more clearly, much in the same way that a splash of water opens an alcoholic brew. Remember the blended oil saved you a few bucks.
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