Move over Olive Oil, there's a new fat in town

Chosen Bites: Popular to contrary belief, coconut oil, in its natural state, is actually a good fat, in moderation.

June 26, 2013 19:29
4 minute read.
Coconut oil

Coconut oil 370. (photo credit: Laura Frankel)

My kitchen counters at home are pretty much empty except where I sauté. There, like skyscrapers in a field, in my sauté “station,” sit at least five different bottles of extra virgin olive oil, numerous vinegars, several different types of salt and three pepper grinders (I am obsessed with the perfect grind). As well as these staples a new, a squatty jar of coconut oil has muscled its way to the front of the line.

I have used coconut oil on and off for years for baking at work and at home. I toyed with the elegant tropical smelling oil for pie and tart crusts, cookies and amazing brownies.

We use coconut oil heavily for baking in my kitchen at work as my dislike for margarine is well known and I do practice what I preach. But recently, I started playing with coconut oil for sautéing.

First, some background. Everyone gets nervous when you mention coconut oil. The skepticism comes from the fact that in the ‘90s, movie concession stands got a bad rap for selling popcorn popped in coconut oil. Coconut oil was demonized and movie theater popcorn was to be avoided at all costs. In fact anything containing coconut oil was considered unhealthy and coconut oil was considered to be cheap manufacturing oil.

Fast forward to the present day and coconut oil is having a revival. It turns out; the unhealthy coconut oil was unhealthy due it being partially hydrogenated, the same reason margarine is so unhealthy.

Coconut oil, in its natural state, is actually a good fat, in moderation. The main saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid. Lauric acid increases levels of good HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, and bad LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, in the blood, but is not thought to negatively affect the overall ratio of the two.

While the jury is still out on fats and cholesterol and research is being conducted, it seems that coconut oil is back in favor. I have seen coconut oil in numerous grocery stores, vitamin shops and all over health food blogs. I recently found over eight different manufacturers selling coconut oil at a local grocery store.

So, I started playing with coconut oil. Let me say, I love it.

The smell when the oil hits the pan is sweet and subtle. The oil seemingly obviously wants to be paired with ginger, lime and other tropical flavors. Instead of fighting, I go with it. The taste is amazing.

I seared salmon filets recently and was salivating while cooking. The oil imparted a delicate almost vanilla flavor to the fish.

If you haven’t used coconut oil, I urge you to give it a try and see what you think.

Pan Roasted Salmon with Sautéed Greens and Garam Masala Coconut Oil

Serves 4

Coconut oil
4 6-ounce salmon filets (or favorite fish), boned and skinned
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
4 cups mixed greens (kale, spinach, Swiss chard)
Juice and zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon Garam Marsala*
Kosher salt and pepper

1. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add several tablespoons of coconut oil. Once the oil has melted and is hot (you will see the convection waves shimmer) add the salmon to the pan (presentation side down-non skin side, this is prettier side).

Don't touch the salmon for about three minutes or until it has seared and formed a crust, or it will stick. Gently flip the salmon over and remove the pan from the heat. The fish will finish cooking itself.

2. Transfer the salmon to a serving platter and gently cover with foil.

3. Return the pan to the heat and add a bit more coconut oil. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic, shallots and ginger. Sauté for 1 minute until the aromatics have softened a bit and add the greens and lime juice and zest.

4. Cook the greens until they have gently wilted, about two minutes. Transfer the greens to a serving platter.

5. Add a bit more coconut oil to the pan and add the Garam Masala. Once the oil is hot and the spices are starting to fry a bit, turn off the heat and allow the spices to perfume the oil.

6. Arrange the greens on a pan with the salmon on top and drizzle with the spiced oil. Garnish with lime slices.

*Garam Masala is an Indian spice mixture that means Hot Spice. The name refers to then intensity of the flavor not the heat or capsaicin level. You can make your own Garam Masala or can easily purchase the mix at most grocery stores or online.

1 cinnamon stick (2-1/2 to 3 inches long), broken into pieces
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup cumin seeds
1/3 cup coriander seeds
1 tablespoon green cardamom pods
1 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 teaspoon whole cloves
1 small dried red chile, stemmed
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground mace

1. Toast the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom, peppercorns, cloves and chile in a pan over medium heat until the spices are very fragrant and slightly darkened (about 3-4 minutes).

2. Add the toasted spices and nutmeg and mace to a spice grinder and process until finely ground. Store the spice mix in a sealed jar out of sunlight for up to three months.

Chef Laura Frankel is Executive Chef for Spertus Kosher Catering and author of Jewish Cooking for All Seasons, and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes.

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