Thursday, January 21, 2010

oil and vinegar - a primer

I don't think it is possible to function competently in a home kitchen without at least a modest investment in a few kinds of oil and vinegar.   Cooks have used these two foods for literally thousands of years to flavor or even preserve their food.  You will turn to these condiments again and again to enhance salads, soups and all kinds of meat and vegetable dishes.  Since I use olive oil so frequently, I buy it in two liter cans and decant a few cups at a time into a pretty glass bottle with an easy to use pouring spout.  I keep the big can in a cool dark place and the bottle right by the stove where it is convenient.

I recommend starting with the basics listed here.  Don't worry about waste if you can't use these things up right away.  Vinegars keeps indefinitely at room temperature, as do most vegetable oils.  Most nut and seed oils are best refrigerated.   As you gain experience,  you will enjoy experimenting with more exotic oils or vinegars.   I have seen entire stores devoted to oil and vinegar in major metropolitan areas.  (Seems a little over the top to a humble citizen of Fillmore County like me, but I can think of a lot worse ways to indulge oneself.) If you are concerned about salt intake, use more vinegar in your cooking.  The spark from the acid makes up for missing salt.  You can use fresh lemon juice the same way.

1.   Olive oil -- For salads, bread dipping or when the oil is used as a sauce,  it is worth paying a bit more for a flavorful extra virgin oil.  For cooking,  a less expensive more neutral flavored oil is just fine.  You could probably take a one week course just about olive oil.  So I am not going to even try to advise you on specifics.  You could find a decent sized Italian, Greek, Spanish or Middle Eastern food market and ask a lot of questions.  Specialty stores often have bottles open to taste.  Or try the house brand from one of the major grocery chains.  No need to obsess about this.  Just start somewhere.
2.  Peanut oil -- very nice for stir frying or other very high heat frying.  I also like to use peanut oil in some salad dressings - especially with Asian flavors.
3.  Walnut or hazelnut oil -- a little of this goes a long way.  For certain salads nut oil is divine.  Try walnut oil in any salad with roasted beets.  I also like to roast carrots or squash with walnut oil.
4.  Vegetable oil -- I still use a lot of canola oil because it is easy to find, relatively flavorless, inexpensive and mostly monosaturated.   I also have been buying sunflower oil when I can find it.
5.  Toasted sesame oil - a small amount can have a big impact.  Practically indispensable with Asian influenced dishes

1.  White - good old basic vinegar is good to have around.  I hardly ever cook with it any more but it is just one of those things no house should be without.
2.  Apple cider --  Read the label.  A lot of supposed cider vinegar is really "apple cider flavored" vinegar.  Pass that up for the real thing.
3.  Rice -- I have gotten to love the light taste of this vinegar and use it often even in dishes that are not Asian
4.  Balsamic -- It is possible to get balsamic vinegars from Italy that cost $200. for a little bottle.  But for most American kitchens, a good quality mid priced version will serve just fine.  I use balsamic vinegar with all manner of cooked beans and greens and of course salad dressings.
5.  Sherry wine - This is a little harder to find and a little pricier -- but worth it.  Mostly used in salads.
6.  Red and white wine -- all round basics for cooking and salad.

I hope you enjoy assembling an oil and vinegar department in your kitchen.  While you are at it make sure you always have salt (a topic worthy of a separate discussion some day), pepper, fresh garlic and some Dijon mustard.   Then you will be PREPARED to create all manner of beautiful food. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I found your blog on the farm site that I am considering for a CSA share and I agree with everything in this post...just wanted to share about ingredients...shallots...I've been grating shallots into my homemade vinegrettes and it is an amazing addition. I'll be back to visit more!