Tip of the Week: Experimenting with Cooking Oils

A lot of times, I get asked what I use in place of butter or lard in some cases. Over the years, I have found that some things work better than others. I have tested recipes with different oils from vegetable oils, to coconut, to olive, and even vegan butter substitutes. I finally feel like I have found a good balance of things that work well and I haven’t changed much for nearly a year now!

The most commonly used oil in my kitchen is olive oil. I like to use it to cook my dinners, but it can also be handy for certain baked goods or breads. Believe it or not, I have made my best ever batch of tortillas with olive oil instead of shortening. I had always believed that I should use a non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening for tortillas since it is similar to lard. I decided to experiment one day, and to my surprise, I created the softest, fluffiest batch of flour tortillas I have ever made! I will also use olive oil in yeasted breads. It gives a richer flavor, which is nice especially for loaves that call for a lot of butter. There aren’t many oils that have a rich flavor, so it works well. One more thing that I love to use olive oil for is a pie crust. When chilled, and thoroughly cut into flour, it creates a tender dough. It isn’t flaky like a butter crust, but it has a tender crumb. It is really great for savory pies, or to add contrast to a sweet dessert.

The other oil I use a lot is coconut oil. I like keeping both refined and unrefined on hand. A lot of times I use the refined because of it’s high smoking point and neutral flavor. It works well for stir-fry, baking, or even frying. I mostly use coconut oil for my baking. I don’t really like many other neutral oils, plus coconut oil can be used in a frosting and in a baked good! It is really a great multi purpose oil. I don’t like using it in certain baked goods because it has a tendency to make them seem too dry. I have tried it in biscuits and tortillas and they don’t retain moisture as well. I like using the unrefined coconut oil on toast. It has a really rich flavor that is a great alternative to butter. In the past, I have kept things like canola, sunflower, avocado, safflower, grapeseed oil, etc. on hand. They are all pretty much the same thing as refined coconut oil. They are good to use for baking or sautéing for a neutral flavor, but I have found it easier to use a neutral flavored coconut oil. It is much more versatile.

For the most part, I have tried to stay away from butter substitutes, because I don’t like telling people that I use them in my cooking. I will keep it at home and use on toast or crackers, but it is mostly for personal use only.

For most of my baked goods and recipes, I have found which oils work the best and which ones don’t, but it is a constant learning experience. I have found that olive and coconut oil are staples, and anything else is optional!

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