It is fairly common knowledge these days that olive oil has certain health benefits and that using olive oil in vinaigrettes, emulsions and baked goods, drizzled on or dipped into, adds an extra layer of flavor and moisture when needed as well. But it is lesser known that olive oil presents an opportunity to gain the same benefits from stove top cooking, in high temperature methods such as frying and sautéing.
I know what you are thinking, frying and healthy? No such thing! But the truth is that by using extra virgin olive oil you can have both.
Although pan frying, deep frying, stir frying and sautéing are different stove top methods, they all have one thing in common: the temperature of the cooking oil. The object of these cooking methods is to cook the outside of the food quickly, creating a crispy exterior, while at the same time allowing the heat from the oil to penetrate all the way through. In order to accomplish this, the oil must reach a temperature of 350 to 370 degrees before introducing the food.
Myth number one: The smoking point of olive oil is too low for frying.
Some cooking oils and fats will reach what is referred to as the smoking point before reaching temperatures required for a good fry. The smoking point is the temperature at which a chemical change takes place resulting in undesirable smoke and flavor. Olive oil is not one of them. The smoking point of extra virgin olive oil is somewhere between 380 and 410 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the impurities and acid content of the olive oil: the better the quality, the higher the smoking point. So, it appears that the smoking point of olive oil is well above the temperature required.
Myth number two: Frying temperatures will change olive oil from a ‘good oil’ to a ‘bad oil.’
Cooking fats and oils are considered dietary fats of which there are three types, saturated, trans and unsaturated. The first two are bad, but the third, unsaturated fat, includes olive oil, a healthy plant-derived dietary fat. The heat required to raise the temperature of olive oil high enough to fry food cannot change the chemical composition of olive oil from a good one to a bad one.
Myth number three: Fried foods absorb cooking oil, making you fat.
Properly fried food will absorb much less cooking oil if the temperature of the oil is hot enough before food is introduced. Otherwise, the food will indeed soak up the oil, producing a soggy, flaccid product. You know, like those oil soaked fries you had last week from your favorite fast food chain.
Not only can you fry with extra virgin olive oil, but you should. Frying with EVOO not only satisfies our desire for Southern-fried comfort foods, Asian stir fry, Mexican fajitas and Italian veal piccata, but it does all of that in addition to fulfilling our nutritional requirements for a healthy dietary fat as well.