To a chef, cooking oil is as essential as quality pots and pans; most recipes call for it. but because oils differ in flavor, color, consistency, fat content and tolerance to heat, they are not necessarily interchangeable.
A key factor is smoke point—the temperature at which oil begins to smoke continuously, indicating its composition is breaking down. When that happens, its flavor, aroma, and nutrients are affected. Oils with high smoke points are best for frying, grilling and other high-heat preparations. Oils with low smoke points are most often used for dips, dressings, and marinades. Light and heat are cooking oil’s foes, so be sure you store it in a cool, dark place. Depending on the type, oil can last from three months to three years after it’s opened.
Whole Foods carries 18 different kinds of oil, including the lesser-known red palm, rice bran, pistachio and apricot kernel. On any given day, you’ll find about 70 choices, among them 25 to 28 olive oils alone, some imported from Chile, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece. While olive oil remains a mainstay in their kitchens, the Islands’ top chefs are exploring the virtues of other varieties. Consider these five options.
Gregory Grohowski, Executive Chef, Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, Maui
Why I like it: One of the reasons I like avocado oil is because it’s not well known; it’s not used that often. When I tell people about it, their reaction is often: “Hmm … I’ve never tried that before.” Avocado oil has an intense flavor; a little goes a long way.
Try it for: Vinaigrette. It goes really well with cilantro and ground, toasted cumin seeds. Add a little freshly squeezed lime juice—and voila! You have a wonderful dressing. Avocado oil is also great for sauteing vegetables and any type of fresh white fish.
FYI: Unlike most edible oils, avocado oil does not come from the seed; it comes from pressing the fruit itself. It’s high in vitamins A, D and E and supposedly can be used as a moisturizer to help prevent wrinkles. maui.hyatt.com
Chai Chaowasaree, Owner/Chef, Chef Chai, O‘ahu
Why I like it: It’s creamy with a bit of sweetness; it’s even delicious right out of the bottle as a spread for toast.
Try it for: Curry. I normally cook my dishes with vegetable oil and finish them with coconut oil. Coconut oil gives curry a rich flavor and texture, but be aware that it can produce a
strong aroma if too much of it is used.
FYI: Even though it’s high in saturated fat, medical experts are studying the benefits of coconut oil for patients with conditions ranging from diabetes and chronic fatigue, to Alzheimer’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. chefchai.com
Ikaika Manaku, Executive Sous Chef, The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Maui
Why I like it: It’s versatile; you can use it for just about anything—from marinating beef or chicken for grilling or roasting, to baking focaccia. Grapeseed oil infused with herbs gives the bread a fabulous aroma and flavor.
Try it for: Stir-fried vegetables. It has a high smoke point and doesn’t burn
like other oils such as butter, olive oil or
sesame oil, so it’s ideal for dishes that require a quick cooking method at high heat.
FYI: Grapeseed oil’s flavor has been described as “mild,” “light” and “neutral.” In actuality, it doesn’t have any flavor, which, for me, is a plus because I want the flavors of my dishes’ main ingredients to stand out, not the oil. westinmaui.com
Jayson Malla, Chef de Cuisine, Rays on the Bay, Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa, Hawai‘i Island
Why I like it: It’s high in unsaturated fat, which can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Try it for: Pasta. Hazelnut oil is usually used to make candy and desserts,
but my favorite for it is kabocha pumpkin ravioli. I finish the dish with burnt butter and hazelnut oil, which gives it a nice nutty flavor and toasted texture.
FYI: Because nut oils can start to turn rancid just six weeks after opening, the best place to store hazelnut oil is the refrigerator. If the oil solidifies, bring it out to room temperature, and it may be used again with no deterioration in quality. raysonthebay.com
Tylun Pang, Executive Chef, Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui
Why I like it: We first started using macadamia nut oil when we opened Ko restaurant a few years ago; it was part of our quest to support local farmers. We were looking for something besides peanut oil for our wok-cooked dishes, because we seemed to be having an increasing number of guests with peanut allergies. Macadamia nut oil has turned out to be a terrific alternative.
Try it for: Fish. One of Ko’s top-selling items is Ahi on the Rock—cubes of sashimi-grade tuna drizzled with macadamia nut oil and seasoned with Moloka‘i salt and shichimi, a Japanese red chili pepper. Guests sear the ‘ahi at their table on a very hot ishiyaki stone grill.
FYI: Compared to most of the other cooking oils, macadamia nut oil has a long shelf life: From the time it’s opened, it can last about two years. korestaurant.com.