Oil is used increasingly as a cooking medium for deep and shallow frying, and is an essential ingredient in most salad dressings. However, the number of different oils available can lead to confusion on the most suitable for each purpose. This guide shows you how to get the best results when cooking with oil

Oils Available: Olive oil, peanut oil, maize (corn) oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, soyabean oil, cottonseed oil, rapeseed oil. The latter two are used mainly commercially. Solidified oils – that is, cooking oils in solid form – are also available. Sesame oil, often an ingredient in Chinese cookery, is used as a flavoring agent only; three or four drops are added to a dish to impart flavor.

Advantages of Cooking with Oil: Oil can be heated to a higher degree than any other cooking medium; the flavor is sealed in quickly, the food is crisp and golden. Butter and margarine, for instance, start to smoke and blacken at around 275 degrees F; oil can be heated to 550 degrees F before it starts to smoke and, of course, there are no foods that need to be cooked at this high degree of heat.

Choosing a Frying Oil: Choose an oil with a bland flavor and neutral odor, so that the flavor of the oil does not affect the taste of the food. Bland-flavored, all-purpose oils are peanut oil and maize oil. Olive oil is also excellent for both deep and shallow frying but has a strong, individual flavor.

Oils for Deep-frying: Olive oil; peanut oil; maize (corn) oil; the solidified oils.

Oils for Shallow Frying: Olive oil; peanut oil; maize oil; safflower oil; sunflower oil; soyabean oil; the solidified oils.

Oils for Salad Dressings: Any of the liquid oils can be used in salad dressings – it is a question of personal flavor preference.

Preparation of Foods: With the exception of a few items, such as chips, deep-fried foods need a coating that will set immediately on contact with hot oil. This is to prevent the food from absorbing oil and becoming greasy and to preserve the shape of the food. It also, of course, improves appearance and flavor.

The protective covering can be flour, batter, egg-and-breadcrumbs, or breadcrumbs.

All food should be as dry as possible when added to the hot oil. Damp foods add water to the oil, causing it to spit and spatter and foam up over the edge of the saucepan.

Chips, one of the most popular deep-fried foods, should be dropped into cold water for 10 minutes after potatoes are peeled and sliced; this removes some of the starch so that the chips do not over-brown before they are cooked through. Make sure chips are thoroughly dried before being added gradually to the hot oil.

To Test Correct Cooking Temperature for Deep-Fried Foods: Oil should be at the required cooking temperature before the food is added. If too cold, food will be limp and greasy instead of crisp and golden. If too hot, food will burn on the outside before being cooked through.

A simple way to test is to drop in a ½ inch square of bread; if the oil is at the right cooking temperature, the bread will turn light golden in 10 seconds. If cooking chips, add one chip to cold oil; heat oil gradually; when chip floats to the top and is golden, the oil is at the correct temperature for cooking.

Do not over-heat oil. It is wrong to heat oil until it smokes, it becomes too hot and causes deterioration in the quality of the oil.

Don’t Over-crowd the Pan: When deep-frying, do not fill the pan more than half-full with oil, to prevent bubbling and over-flowing when food is added. Do not put too much food into the pan at one time; add it gradually, so that oil heat is maintained.

If Oil Becomes Dark: There could be several reasons why this happens: Overheating the oil; oil not strained sufficiently after use; or salt in the oil. It is a good idea to salt foods after they are deep-fried, not before.

Drain Foods Well: After frying, drain foods on absorbent kitchen paper to remove any excess oil and keep foods crisp.

To Clean Oil for Re-use: 5 After oil used for deep-frying has cooled, strain it through a fine strainer; if crumbed food was fried, it may be necessary to line the strainer with muslin or several paper tissues as the fine crumbs will pass through the strainer.

Keep this used oil separate from the fresh, unused oil; top up with fresh oil if necessary, when using to fry again. If strongly flavored foods, such as fish, were fried, then keep this oil for frying fish only; otherwise, the fish flavor will be imparted to other foods.

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