A lesson in Spanish cookery with olive oil

Cooking Spaish-OlivesA small quantity of olive oil can go a very long way, but when you have a very best quality olive oil, it can go a very long way if you know how to use it correctly.

It is important to choose the right grade of oil as well as quantity for the type of cooking you are trying to achieve.

Spanish olive oil is basically divided into 4 categories.

1.        Virgin Olive Oil is completely natural; it does not undergo any treatment other than mechanical means – washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration. Within the Virgin grade, it is then categorised by the quality levels.

  • Extra Virgin – fruity oil extracted from ripe olives, acidity less than 1%
  • Virgin – good, acidity less than 2 %
  • Corriente (ordinary) – average, acidity level not exceeding 3.3%
  • Lampante – very strong, above 3.3% acidity (not suitable for consumption)

2.        Refined Olive Oil is obtained by refining lampante oil; it does not have the full flavour of virgin olive oil. Not ideal, but it can be used for cooking, e.g. frying potatoes.

3.        Regular Olive Oil is a blend of refined and virgin olive oils.

4.        Pomace Oil is made by using solvents to extract oil from the olive oil pressings (olive pomace) that are left after producing virgin olive oil.

We are now going to talk about the recommended method of uses for each grade of olive oil.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil – it is a 100% natural juice of the olive fruits, therefore it is best if it is used uncooked to keep its aroma and flavour, i.e. think extra virgin olive oil as a seasoning or an ingredient.

Drizzling
1.      Drizzle over to the grilled or roasted food to enhance the flavour, just before serving.
2.      Drizzling over the salad first to keep the salad leaves fresh and crisp.
3.      It intensifies the taste and aromas in sauces / soups / stews
4.      Add it to spicy food to give depth.

Marinating
1.      Adding olive oil to herbs and spices to make marinades means that it would blend together better.
2.      It infuses the food.
3.      It enhances the flavours of marinades.

Grilling / Roasting
1.      Brush vegetables, meat or fish with oil before grilling or roasting to seal in the natural moisture and keep the natural flavour of the ingredients.

Some baking, e.g. bread
1.      A healthy alternative to butter or other types of fat.
2.      Good to use to bake certain breads such as sun dried tomato bread and some pastries such as olive oil and anis biscuit that require robust flavour of the extra virgin olive oil.
3.      If using olive oil to bake breads, it actually decreases the quantity of the gluten developing in the dough as well as it slows down the rate of deteriation.
4.      Olive oil breads tend to be more moist.

Frying
1.      Olive oil is the best vegetal oil for deep-frying due to its composition which would resist up to 180-190ºC without undergoing any changes to their molecular structure, and forming a toxic compound.
2.      For frying, for example buttered, bread-crumbed or flour-coated food, maintain the temperature at about 160-170 ºC.
3.      When food is fried at the correct and high temperature, the oil forms a protective layer that helps maintaining natural juices inside.
4.      Use plenty of oil to stop them burning, and avoid uneven cooking.
5.      Using olive oil for frying stop food becoming too greasy.

Sautéing
1.      Add the oil when the pan is very hot. Low temperature will draw the moisture from food resulting in steaming rather than browning.
2.      Make sure the ingredients you are adding to the hot pan are dry or relatively dry.
3.      Maintain the high heat – do not add too much in the pan.
4.      Try not to stir or flip too often.
5.      If sautéing with butter, add a little olive oil to stop food from burning.

It is a myth to believe that you cannot cook with or heat extra virgin olive oil, as it is explained above that it can take the high heat without becoming toxic unlike some oils. We use extra virgin olive oil for all our cooking, as we are in a lucky position where we get our own olive oil from our olive trees and we are able to purchase it inexpensively.

But, the most important point is that the best quality extra virgin olive oils from the PDO Priego de Cordoba need to be appreciated in the most natural form and with love and respect.
Virgin Olive Oil – It is good or acceptable to use virgin olive oil for all of the above cooking method, particularly in baking where you may not need a robust flavour of extra virgin olive oil in some pastries. To use for salad dressing, you may find the aroma and flavour a bit too flat.
Olive Oil – Particularly good for frying, sautéing and baking, when you actually want a subtler taste or it is a healthy alternative to other vegetable oils or butter.

Happy cooking! We hope to welcome you in our authentic Spanish / Andalusian kitchen in the near future on one of our cooking courses in Spain.