I’m often asked what kind of oil I use for cooking
up Asian dishes. This typically happens when I’m about to deep-fry or stir-fry
so my immediate response is canola. In retrospect, I should be more clear.
There are three cooking oils that I reach for most, and they sit right next to
Canola, sesame oil, and peanut oil. That’s the
order that I have the oil in their refillable bottles. The bottles are recycled
wine bottles outfitted with liquor
Why those three oils?
has a neural flavor and high-smoking point. It’s good all-purpose oil. Some
people favor vegetable oil, which is basically soybean oil. Corn oil is heavy,
though its heaviness reminds me of the unrefined rapeseed (canola oil) that I’ve
seen sold grocery stores in Sichuan, China. Yes, it’s true, not all people in
Asian cook with peanut oil. Soybean oil is also very popular in Asia.
Next in line is sesame oil, specifically dark, toasted sesame oil. Some Indian
recipes call for golden colored sesame oil called gingelly. For the rest of
Asia, the darker, toasted sesame oil made from white sesame seeds is preferred.
That’s my sesame oil too. I like Japanese Kadoya brand, though you may find a
Chinese brand that you like. There’s black sesame oil too, which has a slight
bitter edge that’s quite pleasant.
Then there’s semi-refined
peanut oil, which you pretty much have to buy at a Chinese market. Lion and
Globe and Knife are popular brands. This oil has a wonderful peanut flavor and
it is semi-refined so it cannot heat up as hot as fully-refined peanut oil you
buy at supermarkets. Spectrum sells an unrefined peanut oil that’s absolutely
delicious, practically like liquid peanut butter. I have blended it with canola
in a 2:1 ratio and used it straight. The unrefined oil cannot be used for
deep-frying, though I have used the semi-refined stuff and heated it to smoking
for batches of homemade chile oil.
You could make a cheater’s peanut oil by frying peanuts in some canola or refined
peanut oil and that will imbue those oils with some peanut goodness. Cookbook
author Pat Tanumihardja’s mother taught me to do that. When she owned a catering
company and small Indonesian restaurant, Mrs. Tanumihardja fried a lot of
peanuts up in a giant wok. When I asked her what she did with the oil, she told
me that she reused it. It was flavored by the peanuts and fabulous for cooking.
I once asked my mother if she ever cooked with
peanut oil in Vietnam. She laughed and said, “We used to grow peanuts to eat.
How would we have pressed the oil into oil? Pork fat is what we used. If we were lucky, we had chicken fat.”
I also love poultry
fat for stir-frying. I save the rendered fat from roasted Peking
duck or deep-fried Sichuan
duck. If I have some chicken fat or skin, sometimes I’ll render it on the
spot for fat to stir-fry with. Chicken fat and greens is divine. The fatty skin
from a purchased Cantonese roast duck can be cooked in a skillet to obtain
wonderful fat too. Also remember that whenever there’s skin, there are also cracklings to be had. Delicioso.
is hard to find these days so I go to a good butcher and buy fatback. Right
now, I have beautiful fat from locally grown pigs in my freezer. I cut them
into white chunks and keep them in a zip-top bag. Pork fat is needed for har
gow shrimp dumplings, Vietnamese nem nuong grilled meatballs and certain Viet
Oh, of course we have olive oil. And, most
recently started buying grapeseed oil. But those sit on the counter opposite my
stove. Sometimes I sub grapeseed oil for canola.
Now that I’ve shared my go-to cooking oils and
fats, what are yours and why?
to render instant schmaltz for tasty stir-fries