DEMYSTIFYING THE SMOKE POINT...
All cooking and finishings oils (and butter, too) have temperatures at which they begin to break down, usually referred to as the smoke point. This releases free radicals and gives makes what you're cooking taste burnt and bitter. Knowing the smoke point of your oil is a useful tool in everyone's kitchen.
There are two myths that make using EVOO for frying confusing. The first one is a common one and posted everywhere. Extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point. This is wrong. High quality olive oil has a smoke point in the range of 410°. The second myth is less common. Many cooks mistakenly believe that fried foods need temperatures above 410°. Very rarely is this necessary. Almost all fried foods are prepared in the range between 325°F to 375°.
A good guide to follow is that the higher the quality of oil and the fresher it is, the higher the smoke point. When frying foods to achieve the right texture both inside and out, it's always a smart move to use a thermometer to guarantee your oil is not too hot or too cold.
With the simple mechanics of frying with EVOO behind us, there's another bonus. Frying with extra virgin olive oil brings out the flavours of meats, seafood and veggies, especially those with coatings. Always remember that in many regions around the world, cooks have been frying with this is extraordinary ingredient for centuries.
Although you are unlikely to be frying any food in oil that reaches its smoke point, you can use these temps* as a reference.
- EVOO (fresh): 410°
- Butter: 300°
- Refined Canola Oil: 400°
- Refined Peanut Oil: 450°
- Refined Coconut Oil: 400°
- Refined Avocado Oil 520°
And you can save your used EVOO, too. If you're cooking in small quantities and you feel like frying uses up too much quality olive oil, you can simply strain and save in a jar for future frying. There's no need to discard this valuable ingredient, unless you've taken it above 425° for a lengthy cook time which would be a highly unusual frying process.
*These are approximate and dependent on quality and whether a cooking oil is refined. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is not refined, and is fresh pressed. Most olive oils on store shelves including those labelled as "extra virgin olive oil" have been refined and processed and as a result do not offer low levels of acidity, high antioxidants and quality.