There are three fruitiness intensity levels of extra virgin olive oil: Delicate, Medium and Robust.
As a rule, delicate oils (depending on the cultivar) are made from ripe mature olives and have fruity notes that pair nicely with cheese and desserts.
Medium oils have a favorable bitterness and pungency and is what I use most often. I use this in (and on) practically everything, including pasta, soups and salads.
If you are new to extra-virgin , the robust oil can be an acquired taste for some. This strong, assertive, cough-producing oil with a peppery finish, is full of healthy polyphenols and is best paired with dishes such as, Insalata Caprese and Spaghetti Aglio e Olio. Also, a match for red meats and hearty stews. Robust oils have a longer shelf life than the light or medium oils.
All EVOO should be fruity, but the bitterness and pungency will vary depending on the intensity. A quality extra-virgin olive oil is the result of her upbringing, beginning with the variety of olive, how’s she’s grown, harvested, processed and cared for.
The frequently asked question, should extra virgin olive oil be used for frying, is answered with a yes or no depending on whom you ask. The most important thing to know about cooking with olive oil (or any cooking oil for that matter) is to not heat the oil above it’s “smoke point.”
The smoke point, the temperature at which cooking oil begins to break down (deteriorate in quality, nutritional properties and flavor) varies with the type and quality of an oil. When an oil reaches it’s smoke point, you’ll know it because it produces a visible caustic smoke … sometimes followed by the smoke alarm (it happens).
High quality extra virgin olive oils (with low free fatty acids) have a high smoke point.
According to the IOC, (International Olive Council) when heated, extra virgin olive is the most stable fat, which means it stands up well to high frying temperatures. It’s smoke point (210*C or 410*F) is well above the ideal temperature for frying food (which according to Irma Rombauer, author of The Joy of Cooking, is 365*F).
So, if you ask me if you should cook with extra virgin olive oil, my answer is a resounding YES! Due to its antioxidants and high levels of oleic acid, it undergoes no substantial structural change and keeps its nutritional value better than other oils. Plus, it adds delicious flavor.
I realize EVOO is not inexpensive, (about the cost of a fine bottle of wine) but, I’m guessing the olive oil will last longer than the one night it takes to consume the wine.
Before you purchase a bottle of vegetable oil, please know this: Refined vegetable oils (canola, corn, safflower etc.) are made by highly intensive mechanical and chemical processes to extract the oil from the seeds. This process removes the natural nutrients from the seeds and creates a final product which oxidizes easily. The oxidation makes these oils more likely to break down into cancer causing free radicals within the body.
I use extra virgin olive oil for sauteing and frying. Sauteing adds a small amount of oil to a very hot pan to cook food quickly while stirring or flipping the food to keep it from burning (think vegetables).
Pan-frying is similar to sauteing, but uses more oil at a moderately high heat for relatively larger pieces of food (think chicken cutlets or pot roast). In pan-frying, you don’t toss the food around, rather let it brown on one side before flipping.
When food is placed in a pan of hot oil, the natural sugars begin to caramelize and the proteins render a thin protective shield that inhibits food from soaking up the oil. The digestibility of olive oil is not affected when it is heated, as is often the case with refined vegetable oils.
When I’ve finished frying that last veal chop or chicken cutlet, (anything except fish) I don’t throw out the oil. You can cost-effectively reuse the remaining oil if you clarify it first. Simply add a slice of bread to the hot oil, fry it then remove the bread and let the oil cool. Using a piece of cheesecloth, (or paper coffee filter) strain the oil and refrigerate for another use. Even a small amount can be used to saute vegetables or to fry an egg. (This is the only time olive oil should be kept in the refrigerator).
Should you use extra virgin olive oil for cooking? Absolutely!