Chat Leftovers: Striking oil

Mark Finkenstaedt/Mark Finkenstaedt FTWP - This grilled salmon gets a last-minute drizzle of avocado oil for an extra burst of flavor.

Is winter waning? I sure hope so. Just a week ago today, the Washington area was bracing for a big snow dump, and today we’re looking at temperatures up near 60! Makes it tempting to think about the spring crops that will soon be coming our way.

Then again, it’s nice to think about the warmth of comfort food, too. And one of the most comforting comfort foods I can think of is pancakes. They were a family favorite when Nevin Martell was growing up, and now that he’s a dad, he wants to griddle up a new pancake tradition for his little boy. His story is here — and don’t miss the recipes.

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)

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Also in Food this week, Unearthed columnist Tamar Haspel takes a look at the newly passed federal farm bill and wonders why the crops that are good for us are the ones that get the least amount of love. Tim Carman introduces us to chef John Moeller, who cooked in the White House kitchen under three presidents, from 1992 to 2005, and has just published a book about his experiences there.

And for today’s Free Range chat, we have a trifecta! Nevin, Tamar and chef Moeller will all be on hand to answer any questions you want to throw at them. As usual, the fun begins at noon, so be there.

To tide you over until then, here’s a leftover question from last week’s chat:

Avocado oil: I saw it at Costco, and I bought it. Can I bake with it? Do anything with it besides stir-fry? It just looked interesting.

You can do plenty with it, but a lot depends on what kind of avocado oil you bought. Some is unrefined, and some is refined. Both have their uses.

Unrefined avocado oil has much more taste and color; it’s more buttery and avocado-y, and you’ll want to use it in ways that highlight that flavor. Salad dressings/vinaigrettes are good uses. Drizzling over cooked chicken or fish, likewise, or over baked/mashed/steamed potatoes. You can make mayonnaise with it by substituting it for some of your usual oil; you can dip bread in it; you can use it in marinades. You can also use it for sauteing. It has a particular affinity for citrus flavors.

Refined avocado oil is notable less for its taste than for its high smoke point: upwards of 500 degrees. That makes it great for sauteing and deep-frying. The thing is, though, avocado oil isn’t cheap, so it might not be the best choice for your deep-fryer. For example, at Harris Teeter I can buy an 8.45-ounce bottle of avocado oil for $12.99, but I can buy a quart of peanut oil for $4.99. A deep-fryer can require a couple quarts of oil, so you do the math.

In general, you can use avocado in pretty much the same way you use olive oil; it’s also said to have many of the same healthful qualities. So, good purchase! Here’s a salmon recipe to get you started.

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