Tuesday, January 08, 2008

an important bulletin about fried chicken

I started frying chicken again after I went to live with the SP. We both like it a lot, it's virtually impossible to buy anywhere (other than a fast-food grease pit), and I finally have had the leisure to experiment and get it the way I wanted it. I think I've got it mastered now. (Recipe is here--you know you want it.)

This led to the SP taking leftovers to lunch, which led to his co-worker asking for the recipe, which led to many discussions among the menfolk about diet and what is supposedly good for you, with the SP passing along all my reading about fats and oils and proteins and tofu and processed crap.

I may have started a little mini-cult. Heh Heh. (Seriously. The Recipe is here. Go try it.)

But he asked me a question I couldn't answer this morning, having to do with olive oil. See, I've heard for years that you couldn't use olive oil for frying, because of olive oil's supposedly low smoke point, but over the past year I'd been using more and more olive oil in my frying mixture, and now I am using it exclusively, and I have not had a single problem with it smoking or overheating at 375°.

So I went looking for an answer to this olive oil problem. And it seems--as I suspected--the idea that olive oil can't be used for cooking is so much propaganda. I shouldn't be at all surprised if it originated with the Crisco manufacturers, back in the 1920's.

From the Olive Oil source:
If you go to the internet or the market to look for smoke points you will see something interesting. Every oil claims to have the highest smoke point. One website for macadamia nut oil puts their oil at the top of the list with a smoke point of 410 degrees F. On their chart, olive oil comes in at a measly 190 degrees F. This is below the temperature of a hot cup of tea!

The Olive Oil Source claims that extra virgin olive oil smokes from 400 to 365 degrees F, according to it's free fatty acid content. But the macadamia nut folk say that olive oil smokes at the temperature of hot water out of the tap; 190 degrees. When I suggested to the macadamia people that it seemed unlikely that olive oil smokes at a temperature lower than boiling water and that maybe they were confusing centigrade with Fahrenheit they insisted they were right.

So who do you trust for the real smoke point? Here is what some research yielded:

The International Olive Oil Council: 410˚
Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils: 420˚

Or why not get some olive oil off the shelf and heat it up in a saucepan with a frying thermometer? This is properly done in a lab with special lighting which shows the first hint of smoke. My stovetop experiment yielded 350 degrees for a jug of discount store oil which had been sitting open in the garage for a few years and 380 for a premium fresh extra virgin oil. Olive oil is fine for frying.

And if that's too random for you, here's the skinny from Food Network:
The filtration process for this light-style oil also gives it a higher smoke point than regular olive oil. Light olive oils can therefore be used for high-heat frying, whereas regular olive oil is better suited for low- to medium-heat cooking, as well as for many uncooked foods such as salad dressings and marinades. The International Olive Oil Institute recommends using pure olive oil for frying, since the flavor of extra virgin olive oil tends to break down at frying temperatures, making the added expense a waste.

I like the olive oil. Since I'm using the Pomace, or third-press, oil, it's relatively inexpensive, it has little or no taste of its own (at least compared to canola or peanut oil) and it doesn't give me heartburn or bowel discomfort the way Crisco does.

Of course you can use whatever oil you like. I just enjoy bursting other people's absurd balloons. Now go forth and fry!


AJ Milne said...


I hadn't heard that claim about olive oil being an issue, frying. Guess I been reading the wrong articles. I have set fire to the stuff, but it took some doing. Cast-iron pan, too hot, ooops. Y'know. Does burn impressively, I'll say that much.

But then, I set fire to it because I have some opportunities. It's really one of three I use. Including, in rough order of use: butter (lots of things, like eggs and so on), olive oil (a lot of meats, and a particular asparagus 'n garlic 'n olive oil think we do), then peanut oil (stir fries that call for such).

Holly said...

Ditto on the use of cooking fats in our house. I grew up on Crisco and Parkay, neither of which I can stomach these days.

I have managed to set butter on fire, although that was over a campfire. My mother put the fear of God into me regarding grease fires, so although I have had some smoking pans, none has yet burst into flames.

It seems that natural fats have a lower smoke/flame point than hydrogenated ones, but how lazy a cook does one have to be, to make that a chronic problem?

Joy Marchand said...

I'll have to try this, real soon. I had heard the same myth about olive oil, and have been frying my chicken in Crisco to get it really crispy. Yours sounds better.

Holly said...

Let me know how it goes, Joy.

One thing I didn't mention is that so-called "pure" olive oil (the low-cost stuff) can sometimes be diluted with other vegetable oils, i.e. corn or soy. If you don't mind this, that's ok, but check the labels so you know what you are paying for. Some people are allergic to corn or soy.