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The Blonde Cucina: Cooking with oils and fats

by on April 30, 2015 10:56 AM

Have you ever been to the store and noticed all the different fats and oils from which you can choose? There are a lot of them.

I’m sure you also are wondering what the difference is. Well, I’m here to tell you — there is a difference.

Don’t worry — I’m not going to bombard you with the entire oil/fat aisle. I’m going to stick to basics that you probably are already using, or that don’t seem so off in left field.

Now, let’s talk about three terms you know, or probably have seen before:

■Saturated fats.

Simply put, saturated fats are animal fats that become solid at room temperature. Some examples are butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, egg yolks and lard. What you need to remember from a health standpoint is that saturated fats raise cholesterol more than any other food you eat.

■Unsaturated fats.

These types of fats can come from both animal and plant products. There are three different types — monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and trans-fatty acids.

Monounsaturated fats include plant-based oils such as olive, peanut and canola oils. These fats are liquid at room temperature.

Polyunsaturated fats, most of the time, come from vegetables or nuts, and include corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean and sesame seeds oils. These fats are also liquid at room temperature.

Trans-fatty acids are produced when liquid oil is turned into a solid fat, such as shortening or margarine. These fats act like saturated fats and can raise cholesterol levels.

■Smoking point.

First off, keep in mind that not all fats are the same, and not all fats cook the same, either. The more an oil is refined, the higher smoking point it will have.

Simply put, refining takes all the impurities out that will, in fact, cause it to smoke. And, once the fat you decide to cook with surpasses its smoke point, it’s no longer good to use. The fat has started to break down.

Remember this rule: The lighter the color of the fat or oil, the higher its smoking point is.

When you are frying, it is important to choose an oil with a super-high smoking point. Generally, most foods should be fried between the temperatures of 350 and 450 degrees. So, you should choose an oil with a smoking point higher than 400 degrees.

Different fats and oils have different uses. There isn’t always a catch-all fat or oil you can use for everything. These fats and oil have different performance level, and that just means they will work within a certain range of temperatures. Some are made for high-heat cooking, and others are simply best enjoyed by drizzling directly on food.

In my house, I have butter, virgin olive oil (I don’t care for the taste of extra-virgin olive oil), sesame oil (I just love that rich flavor) and canola oil (just a great all-purpose oil, but can’t be used for everything).

Here are two recipes that are simple, economical and use two of the fats I mentioned. Remember — not all fats are for every recipe, but you don’t need the grocery store's entire fat and oil aisle in your cupboard.

 

BACON BUTTER

Start to finish: Prep time of 5 minutes, plus 4 hours of chilling time

Servings: 16 (1 tablespoon per serving)

1 cup butter, softened

2 tablespoons fresh chives

2 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

2 minced garlic cloves

1 tablespoon finely shredded cheddar cheese

Stir all ingredients together in a bowl until combined and evenly distributed.

Spoon onto a piece of cling film wrap and roll into a tube-like shape. Twist the ends of wrap.

Refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.

This is fantastic on crusty bread or a nice little flavor punch on top of steak or chicken.

 

QUICK RED PEPPER FLAKE PASTA

Start to finish: 25 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients

1 pound angel hair pasta

1/2 cup olive oil

3 minced garlic cloves

1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon grated Romano cheese

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain pasta, saving 2 tablespoons of the pasta water.

In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until light brown. Add red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute.

Add reserved pasta water and cheese, stirring to combine. Place spaghetti into the pan and mix well for 1 minute.

Serve immediately.



Ciara Semack is the owner of The Blonde Bistro in Bellefonte. She is the mother of one and a lifelong resident of Centre County. Her column appears every other week in the Gazette. Questions, suggestions and comments can be directed to [email protected]
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