June 15, 2006

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When to pull out the EVOO
Learning the secrets of ‘liquid gold’
By Susan Reilly  news@hippopress.com

For the past decade the trend has been to slick every sauté pan with olive oil, or even better yet, extra virgin olive oil. Whether your oil of choice was poured from a five-gallon tin or an up-market, artisnal bottle, you were confident.

Confident for basically two reasons: it is good for you and it is tasty.

Olive oil is undeniably good for you. If it is your main source of dietary fat, combined with eating a healthy diet that is high in plant foods, studies show that olive oil may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Besides being healthy, it has a robust flavor, so delicious it can be eaten straight form the bottle, mopped up with a simple hunk of bread or blanched vegetable.

But gourmands disagree whether the heat from cooking changes the flavor, making the both savory and sweet oil bitter when heated.

Chef Matt Provencher cooks with a blend of 75 percent canola and 25 percent olive oil at home. But at Surf in Nashua, where he is head chef, he cooks with strictly canola oil.

“The blend is OK because at that small rate, all the olive oil does is offer richness,” he said. “But in the restaurant, we prefer canola for heat.”

At Surf, Provencher uses olive oil as a plate drizzle and to dress salads.

“I don’t even use olive oil to make a Caesar salad or aioli because the blades can get warm and heat the oil and change the flavor,” he said.

With every rule, there is an exception. Provencher swears that a blend of snow peas and oyster mushrooms, a side dish served at Surf, tastes a hundred times better when cooked with olive oil.

“I have no idea why, it just does,” he quipped.

The Olive Oil Source, an international distributor of olive oil, has a FAQ sheet on its Web site and contends that olive oil is great for cooking because it has a high smoke point and doesn’t degrade under the heat like some other oils.

Fair enough, but what about the flavor? They admit that excess heat does degrade the flavor.

Culinary doyenne Julia Child cooked with vegetable oil. It seems every recipe of hers starts with three tablespoons of vegetable oil in the pan.

Iron Chef Mario Batali cooks only in olive oil. He calls it “liquid gold” and most often uses extra virgin.

At Taste of Europe in Manchester, chef Brian Siembor uses a variety of olive oils for cooking.

“It depends on what I am cooking, but I like extra virgin olive oil, it has a nice taste,” he said.

Siembor will use simple olive oil for a shrimp sauté because he does not want the strong flavor of extra virgin to over power the dish.

“It comes down to knowing the dish and choosing the right oil,” Siembor said.

While olive oil has been around for thousands of years, television chef Rachael Ray introduced it to many novice home cooks.

“EVOO, one turn of the pan,” she says over and over.

While seasoned cooks may cringe at her calling extra virgin olive oil “EVOO,” her repeated use of the oil has made it a staple in every cupboard, even for the Hamburger Helper set.

The bottom line is this: when deciding whether to heat or not to heat olive oil: heat a couple of tablespoons of your favorite olive oil in a pan. Pour into a soup spoon and cool. Once cool, taste it, and compare it to the cold, straight from the bottle oil.

If you like the taste, you are good to go. If not, but want to use olive oil for the health benefits, experiment with a blend like Provencher’s. Like with most everything in the kitchen, it can’t be wrong if you like it

The gift of oil
Olive oil has become the chic new pour.

Once simply used as a salad dressing or to slick a sauté pan, olive oil is now the subject of as many tastings and nouveau connoisseurs as wine.

Crushed from the humble, savory olive, olive oil has as many vintages, regions and producers as wine. And like wine, things such as weather strongly influence the finished product, just as quality influences price.

Next time you are invited to dinner, consider bringing a bottle of olive oil rather than wine. It lasts longer and is something the host can use over and over.

You won’t have to look far to find a good bottle. And if you have no idea what to buy (and don’t want to shop by attractive packaging), tastings are regularly held at gourmet shops such as Angela’s Pasta and Cheese Shop in Manchester and Cooking Matters in Nashua.

At Angela’s, olive oil choices include Todd English’s own brand of Greek olive oil ($16.95), Lerida, the first super premium extra virgin olive oil from Spain ($16.95) and a selection of O Olive Oils ($19.95) from California.

These oils are flavored with organic fruits, such as Meyer lemon, blood orange, Tahitian lime and ruby red grapefruit. They are best used as a flavor enhancer on chicken breasts, fish or vegetables after grilling.

At Cooking Matters, there are dozens of choices of domestic and imported olive oils in all price ranges.

Look for extra virgin olive oils from Olio Verde ($34.95) from Sicily, and Storm Olive Ranch ($24.95) in Napa Valley.

“We sell a lot of olive oil. People come and in shop based on region, harvest and aging. It has become like wine,” said Eric Ray from Cooking Matters.

Like wine, price does vary based on the season. Rumors have it that Spanish olive oil is about to jump in price due to a poor harvest, so demand will not be met.

“Olive oil has it’s own following, and it makes a great gift for anyone who likes to cook,” Ray said.


Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com  


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Experiments With Very Bad Brownies
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Go ahead — run silent, run deep
Goodbye corn syrup, hello organic oatmeal
Go Indian for Thanksgiving
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Holiday Cookies - The Easy Way
Holiday Potluck 101-Tips For The Kitchen Novice
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