CK Audio Newsletter #15 - Oily to Rise
Broadcast on Sounds Like Canada - CBC Radio One
February 7, 2003 - 11:30 a.m.
It's been a surprisingly busy early-February week at the restaurant.Many of them told us they're hoping to shake the jitters out with a hearty helping of comfort food.
In this kitchen, we like to believe that we can cook something to suit anybody's needs, wants and desires. But recently, a customer, someone living with a challenged immune system and on a special diet, had to compromise their lunch because we didn't have the coconut oil they wanted their vegetables prepared with. In fact, we didn't know anything about it.
So, with that wake-up call, we got busy and began researching the pros and cons of all the cooking oils, flavoured oils and health-promoting oils on the market... and there's a lot to soak up.
The shelf above our cooktop is stocked with two basic cooking oils: canola for its neutrality, and olive oil for its flavour. And we make our own blends for various applications, for sautés, marinades and dressings. And we know we're not alone in these choices, but we conducted an informal survey, that we dubbed OPEC i.e Oils Preferred by Executive Chefs.
Our first visit was to Pino Posteraro at Cioppino's, the local bastion of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. Pino, as you might guess, knows a thing or two about olive oil. He had some of his considerable collection laid out for us where we got there.
Pino uses extravirgin olive oil exclusively, and among his favourites (see below) is a Spanish oil he prefers as his multipurpose cooking oil. The best oils, including the premium oils made from young fruity olives, show their depth of flavour when drizzled over Dover sole or fresh bitter greens. When compared to prices at the source in Italy (av.$20/L) Canadians can purchase excellent EV olive oils at more-than-fair prices.
A good rule of thumb, says Pino, in choosing the fruitiest and peppery (which the Italians call pizzica) oils, look for those coming from coastal regions, where the heat intensifies the flavours.
Other cooks we called on recommended some of their favourite oils, grapeseed for one, safflower for another.. although canola and olive oils still top the list.
But we struck it rich when we called, Karen Barnaby, the exec chef at The Fish House in Stanley Park. She put us on to the source of that coconut oil our customer had requested and which, as it turns out, is produced by a local Vancouver company called Omega Nutrition. They market an entire line of cooking oils, as well as those oily nutritional supplements, like flax seed oil, that's high in Omega-3 fatty acid...which we typically consume in the form of fresh wild salmon or mackerel.
So before heading over to see Karen, we arranged to drop in on Robert Gaffney, Omega's president, to find out what makes his oils special.
Unlike most heavily-refined cooking oils, such as canola, corn and sunflower oils, all of Omega's oils are made with a process that limits their exposure to heat, light, air and reactive metals, and filtering is kept to a minimum.Gaffeny says the resulting oils are "alive" with natural fatty acids, anti-oxidents and other beneficial elements.
He also claims that the health effects of tropical oils, such as palm and coconut, have been smeared by those, such as soybean and canola processors, lobbying to gain market share. Omega's coconut oil is solid at room temperature and favoured by vegans as a butter substitute. It also contains a high concentration of lauric acid, with anti-viral properties sought by those with immune system deficiencies. Though it's high in saturated fat, it consists of medium-chain triglycerides, which unlike the long-chain variety found in animal fats, is more readily digested.
It's also Gaffney's hope that more chefs and restaurateurs discover the benefits of premium oils and choose to make them available to their customers.
Omega's literature is quite convincing, yet It's not easy to get a clear or even unfiltered picture of the relative merits of one oil versus another. For example, reference books and websites are gushing with opinions on canola, everything from whether it's the healthiest or most toxic oil on the market and whether the oil produced from genetically-modified plants should be considered a GM food though it has been stripped of its DNA bearing proteins.
We brought samples from Omega and a few others on our visit to Karen Barnaby at The Fish House. As a bonus, chef and wine writer Stephen Wong was also there, so we proceeded to have an infromal taste test.
Karen likes to use the Omega coconut oil in curries. Though it has very little coconut flavour, its light texture and mouthfeel help accentuate the natural spices. Stephen uses both canola and olive oils regularly, but alos likes the light, neutral flavour of grapeseed oil for dressings, and for making infused oils.
We also sampled some walnut and pumpkinseed oils from both Omega and Quebec's Maison Orphée. Karen recommends these oils for desserts, especially with chocolate or fresh berries.
With all tat, we've made some room on kitchen shelf for oil bottles, and cleared some fridge space for some specialty nut oils.We have put the pumpkinseed oils to use in some new recipes, a simple dressing for both a savory and sweet dessert salads.
SOURCES AND RESOURCES
Two of Cioppino's executive chef Pino Posteraro's favourite extra virgin olive oils are: Stilla D'Oro, a premium Italian EV oil (about $15/500ml) and best used as garnish for delicately flavoured fish and pastas; and Bonta, a Spanish import priced at about $5/1L, an ideal all-purpose oil.
Coconut oil, and other premium culinary and nutritional oils are available from Omega Nutrition, and distributed at natural food and gourmet markets across Canada.
Other delicious small-batch nut and cooking oils, including tasty pumpkin seed and walnut oils, are packaged and distributed by Maison Orphée in Québec City.
Karen Barnaby is the executive chef of The Fish House in Stanley Park, and driving force behind recipes at LowCarb.ca.
Find out what proponents and opponents are saying about canola oil, and get some other opinions on grapeseed oil.