Posted on Nov 11th, 2009 in Food Gold by Elliot Aronow
In these lean times, we home cooks are faced with many fiscal decisions each time we step foot in le grocery shop. Do we get the extra virgin olive oil pressed by beautiful barefoot 22 year old virgins in Tuscany? Or do we go with the Goya? Morton’s salt or the Flor De Sal imported from Portugal by trans-Atlantic pigeons? For this week’s edition of Food Gold, we’re going to let you know when it you need to go for the top shelf stuff (PIMP) and when any old product will do (SKIMP). Let’s start with the basics that every cook will need in their pantry.
Before we go in, Imma break down the difference between utility products and finishing products. As their names imply, utility products are used before and during the cooking/preparation processes while finishing products are used, often sparingly, at the end to really highlight and elevate the flavor profiles of a dish. A good rule of thumb is that you should always pimp out on the finishers, as they are often the secret weapons of restaurant chefs. And if they are good enough for folks who HAVE to worry about the dollars and cents of every dish they create, you know they must be worth the splurge.
Pimp: Use a high quality, expensive olive oil (my favorite is Arte Oliva from Spain, available at D’Espana on Broome Street in New York) for drizzling on top of cooked veggies and fish or serving with warm breads. You might also want to throw a little splash in if you are making a vinaigrette. *These will often have a very bold, fruity flavor to them, so you want to use them sparingly, the oil will add a strong flavor profile just on its own. Think of them as ingredients in and of themselves, not just vessels for getting the job done.
Skimp: When a recipe calls for olive oil to saute or gently fry something over medium heat, you can use any decent product and get excellent results. I’m rather partial to the Trader Joe’s Spanish Olive Oil. It has a mild, buttery flavor and is just a little bit sweet. If you want the most flavor neutral Olive Oil, California varieties are a good bet as well.
Pimp: When you need salt to add a textural, crunchy component to your dish, as is the case when you are salting a steak or finishing a salad, you need to go for a coarse Flor De Sal. $15 or more might seem like a lot for a one pound bag of salt, but it goes a long way.
Skimp: For basic seasoning needs, I go with a fine, kosher sea salt. My go-to guy is Redmond’s RealSalt, which is a bargain at $4 for a 9 ounce shaker. They sell it at Whole Foods, so it’s pretty easy to find. *Pardon my French but DO NOT under any circumstances fuck with Iodized Morton’s salt, or any bullshit product like that. I know the umbrella girl is cool (shout out to Jawbreaker) but this stuff is just unacceptable. And it’s bad for you.
Pimp: To be honest, I never see a reason to use expensive vegetable oil for sauteing things. If you only have money or room for one vegetable oil in your pantry, canola oil is the most utilitarian.
Skimp: The only thing you should care about is getting something with a high smoke point. Olive oil burns at a lower temperature than corn, grapeseed or peanut oil, so don’t use that for medium-high heat cooking. That said, many faux fancy cooks like me will swear by Grapeseed Oil, as it is supposedly the most flavor neutral but I don’t really notice a big difference. You probably won’t either.
This one is dead simple. NEVER, EVER use cooking wines. EVER. I really mean that. They are by nature of poor quality, loaded with salts and preservatives and they will ruin any dish you are making. You are better off dumping in a gallon of vinegar, that’s how bad this shit tastes. Besides, do you really want to cook with any wine that you wouldn’t want to drink on its own? Part of the fun of cooking with wine is having a glass or two as you cook (BIG UP to Keith Floyd, RIP) so best to tell the folks at your wine shop what you are making and what your budget is so they can hook you up. I’ve made wonderful meals with $9 or $12 bottles of wine, and got mad crunk too!
Fork The Word,