You may think that Hanukkah food is all about latkes and doughnuts, but it’s actually about… fried. Fried food, that is — because of the small jug of oil that miraculously lasted for eight days instead of one. We celebrate the holiday by lighting candles (oil lamps in days gone by) and eating foods fried in oil. Like latkes and doughnuts.
And you need the right oil for the right job.
Latkes? No problem. Potato pancakes are pan-fried in a small amount of fat over medium-high heat. You can use almost any kind of vegetable oil, olive oil, shortening — even butter.
It’s the oil for doughnuts, and any other deep-fat-fried food, that needs more thought.
Deep-fat frying requires a couple of inches of oil in a deep pan and high heat (usually between 365-400˚ F) to cook the food quickly. That means you need an oil with a high smoke point — one that will not burn, smoke and break down easily at high temperatures.
Flavor is important too: Best results require a neutral, almost flavorless oil so you can taste the doughnut, not the grease.
Here’s a quick rundown of the best oils to use for deep-frying:
1) Refined peanut oil has a high smoke point (450˚ F) and fairly neutral taste. It’s also expensive and can’t be used if there’s a peanut allergy.
2) Vegetable oil is an all-purpose term and can mean any plant-based oil such as canola (425˚ F), safflower (510˚ F), sunflower (450˚ F), grape seed (420˚ F), cottonseed (420˚ F), corn (440˚ F) and soybean (460˚ F). Some vegetables oils are blends of two or more kinds (look at the ingredient label). All have relatively high smoke points (the temperature at which they begin to smoke) which is indicated above in the parentheses), making them suitable for deep-frying. Some have almost no flavor (safflower); others, such as corn oil, have more distinctive tastes. Grape seed oil oxidizes easily, and therefore may not be as healthful; canola oil has a strong odor that some find offensive.
3) Olive oil has a low smoke point (375˚ F), which means it’s not a good choice for high-heat deep-fat frying.
4) Avocado oil has a very high smoke point (520˚ F) and also some health benefits, but it is also expensive.
5) Rice bran oil has a high smoke point (490˚ F) and neutral flavor, but it also is expensive.
My choice? Safflower oil. It has a very high smoke point, a neutral flavor and a reasonable price tag.
Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher in Stamford, Connecticut. She is the author of “The Modern Kosher Kitchen” and “Hip Kosher.” Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram