Anyone can toss some oil into a pan and use it to cook, but if you want to up your game, consider using different oils based on the dish you are making and how you plan to cook it. Using the right oil can mean the difference between a tasty, well-cooked meal, and a smoke alarm going off over your burned food.
For a perfect meal, one does not have to run out and buy a dozen different oils just in case you need them, but there is some benefit to having more than one type of cooking oil in your kitchen. Depending on whether you plan to bake, fry, or grill, using a different oil will yield different results in your food, and give you more control over the cooking time and temperature.
Here are the four types of cooking oil that you should stock up on to ensure having the right oil for a variety of cooking purposes.
What to use it for: Sautéing, cooking over moderate heat and salad dressings. Olive oil is valued for its great flavor and is definitely one you always want to have in your pantry. It has a low smoke point, meaning it will burn at a lower temperature, so it is best used over moderate heat.
Extra-virgin olive oil can be used for uncooked items such as in the form of salad dressings or drizzling over cooked food.
What to use it for: Roasting, popping popcorn, granola, sautéing, curries, baking and dishes with nutty flavors. Coconut oil is the oil extracted from the meat of coconuts, and unlike a lot of other cooking oils solidifies when temperatures go down. It has a low smoking point, so one should avoid using coconut oil over high heat. It is generally used in a lot of vegan baking recipes to replace animal fats.
High-heat, neutral-tasting oil:
What to use it for: Roasting, high-heat cooking, wok cooking, deep-frying, baking, dishes where you want a very neutral-flavored oil so you do not really taste it.
Popular varieties: Canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, grapeseed, peanut oil and rapeseed.
Recipes usually call for vegetable oil, which can be a very confusing term, as technically, any plant based oil can be considered a vegetable oil. What it really refers to, however, are oils that have a higher smoke point and fairly neutral flavor, making them popular for high-heat cooking and for dishes where you do not really want to distinctly taste the oil. Their clean flavors also make them popular choices for deep-frying and baking.
Most vegetable oils are inexpensive, although there are a few, like grapeseed that come with a higher price tag.
What to use it for: Salad dressings, drizzling on dishes that are uncooked or will not be cooked further.
Popular varieties: Toasted sesame seed, herb-infused, citrus, garlic and nuts.
These finishing oils may be extracted from flavorful ingredients or may come from infusing oils with other flavors. Because they are very strongly flavored on their own, it is better to preserve the flavor by not cooking with them, as the heat dulls the flavors. Instead, finishing oils can be whisked into salad dressings or tossed onto dishes right before serving so one can taste their uniqueness.
Finishing oils usually cost more than other oils, and while they are not totally essential for everyday cooking, having one or two around is an easy way to add a unique layer of flavor to a dish. A little toasted sesame oil on a stir-fry or some walnut oil in a salad is delicious.