Hanukah is an ode to oil, a celebration of a combustible miracle. More than 2,000 years ago, after defeating the Syrians and regaining control of the temple in Jerusalem, the Jews ran into a logistical problem while rededicating their holy sanctuary. They found only one cruse of consecrated oil, enough for one day. The miracle was that it lasted for eight.
Thus began the symbolic tradition of celebrating the victory with edible oil, using it to fry foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) or sufganiyot (doughnuts).
So in commemoration of this holiday (and in disobedience to our diets), herewith is a mini-oil catalog, a modern-day ode to oil. Advice From the Experts
Nina Simonds, Chinese cookbook author: For stir-frying, use peanut, safflower or corn oil.
Julia Child: For deep-frying, use peanut oil. For saute'ing, use olive oil.
Shirley Corriher, cooking teacher: Oil is at its ideal frying temperature between 375 and 400 degrees.
William Goodrich, director of the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils: Commercial oils have extremely long shelf lives; "surely up to a year after being opened." Name That Oil
In what kind of oil are they cooked?
Potato pancakes at the Carnegie Deli? Soybean. Popcorn at the Cerberus movie theater? Coconut. McDonald's french fries? Beef tallow and vegetable. Pringles Potato Chips? Cottonseed. Chow mein at the Pritikin Longevity Center? None. The kitchen saute's it in defatted chicken stock. Odds and Ends On Oil
* When Procter & Gamble introduced Crisco shortening in 1911, it was made from the same cottonseed oil the company used for its Ivory soap.
* All oils contain approximately the same amount of calories: 120 per tablespoon.
* U.S. per capita consumption of oils and fats is larger than ever before, although there has been a switch from animal to vegetable products.
* When the label says "vegetable oil," it most likely is primarily soybean oil, the leading type of oil used in this country. Before the soybean industry grew so huge, it used to be cottonseed oil. Other Oils
* Chinese hot oil: Made from vegetable oil and hot red peppers, used as a seasoning oil for stir-fried dishes.
* Grape-seed oil: A light cooking oil with a very high smoking point.
* Poppy seed oil: Made from the seeds of the purple, black or white poppy, used as a table oil in France.
* Rice bran oil: Used in place of soybean or cottonseed oil.
* Shellfish oil (believe it or not): Made from olive oil mixed with the pounded shells of crustaceans, used to season cold sauces, mayonnaise and fish salads. Health Statistics
Tape this to a kitchen cabinet:
A National Institutes of Health panel recommended last week that Americans change their dietary habits to reduce the risk of heart disease. A diet low in saturated fat would have the greatest impact in lowering blood cholesterol, said the panel. (Blood cholesterol is a substance produced in the body that in excessive amounts clogs the walls of arteries.) The recommendations suggest that no more than 10 percent of daily fats consumed be saturated and no more than 10 percent be polyunsaturated.
All oils contain varying amounts of the three different types of fats, but a polyunsaturated oil, for example, is considered such because it contains more polyunsaturated fats than the other two.
Polyunsaturated oil: Tends to lower blood cholesterol, although high intakes have been correlated to some types of cancer. Includes sesame, soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower and cottonseed oils.
Monounsaturated oil: Has no effect on blood cholesterol. Includes olive and peanut oils.
Saturated oil: Raises blood cholesterol levels. Includes coconut and palm kernel oils. Animal fats, such as butter and lard, are saturated.
Other tips to remember:
* Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, unsaturated fats are liquid.
* Vegetable oils do not contain cholesterol; only animal products do.
* The "P/S ratio" of an oil or fat is the amount of polyunsaturated to saturated fats. If they are so labeled, look for products with a P/S ratio of at least 2:1 or greater. Smoke, Then Fire
The smoking point (the temperature at which the oil begins to decompose, damaging it for frying) for soybean, corn, cottonseed and peanut oils is around 450 degrees. Their flashpoint (the temperature at which sparks appear) is 625 degrees; fire point (the temperature at which the oil flames) is 685 degrees. Coconut and palm oils are somewhat lower in all three categories.
Be careful when using oil for the second time; it has a much lower smoking point than fresh oil. If a pot of oil begins to flame, cover immediately with a tight-fitting lid; do not try to transport it uncovered. Do-It-Yourself
Make your own herb-flavored oil for use in marinades, grilling or pasta-salad vinaigrettes. Take 3 sprigs thyme, 1/2 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon fennel seed, 2 sprigs fresh mint and 2 sage leaves and place in a jar with 1/2 cup olive oil. Set aside to mellow.
Recipe from Paula Wolfert's "The Cooking of South-West France" Many Flavors
* What to do with fancy oils:
* Mix almond oil with lemon juice and sprinkle on steamed and chilled snow peas.
* Drizzle avocado oil on a fruit salad topped with bits of chopped nuts.
* Make a vinaigrette using walnut oil and a flavored vinegar, such as raspberry, and drizzle on a raddichio salad with crumbled cheese and diced apples.
* Mix hazelnut oil with red wine vinegar and toss with a cold beef and melon salad.
* Marinate a firm-fleshed fish in pimiento-flavored oil and a touch of lemon juice before grilling or broiling. Oil Associations
Every food product has an industry association to plug it (i.e. Evaporated Milk Association, Pickle Packers International), and the oil business is no exception. The following organizations may tell you more about oil than you ever wanted to know:
Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils, 1750 New York Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20006; 783-7960.
Association for Sauces and Dressings, 5775 Peachtree-Dunwoody Rd., Suite 500-D, Atlanta, Ga. 30342; (404) 252-3663.
National Sunflower Association, P.O. Box 2533, Bismarck, N.D. 58502; (701) 224-3019.
Olive Oil Group, Association of Food Industries, 177 Main St., Matawan, N.J. 07747; (201) 583-8188.
And for an oil and vinegar combination, there's always the Vinegar Institute, which is located at the same address as the Association for Sauces and Dressings.
Also, from the government:
Bureau of the Census, Industry Division, 763-7807. Information available by phone on production, consumption and stocks of fats and oils. Publishes two monthly reports, available by subscription.
Nutrient Data Research Branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for information on the nutritional status of fats and oils. Call John Weihrauch at 436-5629. Process It
Hydrogenation: A process that converts polyunsaturated fats to monounsaturated or fully saturated fats. Many oils are partially hydrogenated; it should say on the label.
Winterization: A process done to commercial salad oils that prevents them from crystallizing when refrigerated.
Virgin olive oil: Oil that has been pressed from olives mechanically, not chemically as vegetable oils are made. FRED'S MORE-THAN-POTATO PANCAKES (Makes 10 pancakes) 1 cup grated unpeeled white potatoes 1 cup grated carrots 1 cup grated sweet potato 1 small onion, chopped fine or grated 1 teaspoon salt 1 clove garlic, crushed 4 eggs 1/3 cup whole-wheat flour 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley Juice of 1/2 lemon Pepper to taste Vegetable oil for frying Applesauce or sour cream for serving
Place grated vegetables in a colander over a bowl with about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Allow to stand about 15 minutes while the salt draws out water. Rinse and squeeze well to remove excess water. Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Form into 10 thin patties, using about 3 tablespoons batter for each. Heat about 1/4 inch oil in a heavy skillet. Fry pancakes in oil until well browned, about 2 minutes, flip and fry other side until well browned. Serve with applesauce or sour cream.