Picking out a fat base for any kind of cooking, is heavily dependent on the kind of cooking you plan on doing and the smoking point of the fat in question. But what really is this phenomenon? Read to know more.
Have you ever left a pan with oil in it over heat for too long and watched it have your entire kitchen up in smoke? Fat, like any other combustible fuel, has a smoking point – which is basically the maximum temperature point it can reach, before it starts to burn. Oils that are extracted from seeds or nuts and bottled right after, essentially known as cold-pressed oils, are packed with minerals and enzymes that aren’t necessarily compatible with heat, making them susceptible to rancidity – which might directly affect the flavour of food, making it bitter and unpalatable.
However, when oils undergo a refinement process, where heat is applied during the course of extraction, it naturally eliminates these enzymes and minerals, making the oil neutral flavoured and holding a higher shelf life. Similarly, clarified butter or ghee as we know it, follows a similar process, which explains the high smoking point, making it ideal for activities like deep-frying or tempering. When heat-sensitive components are extracted from clarified butter, say milk solids, for example, ghee becomes fit for using at higher cooking temperatures.
What’s important to understand is that smoking fat isn’t always a bad thing, as long as you watch your fat substance and ensure that the temperature is under control. Smoking fats for purposes like tempering or pouring over other substances to flash-cook them, enhances the flavour of food; whereas, once the fat crosses the point where it can be salvaged, it releases free radicals and a harmful substance called acrolein, which gives food its burnt flavour and aroma.
Another downside of fats crossing their smoking point is the release of ignitable gases, which might not be safe to have around an open flame. However, in the event that this occurs, simply turn the heat off and gently move your pan away from the heat source to let it cool down completely. Using the technique of smoking fat to roast, fry, sear and sauté food is the best way to extract and amplify the flavours of ingredients, causing Maillard reactions, that lead to caramelisation and browning.
One thing to know about smoking your fat is that once a fat medium reaches its smoking point, it can only be used a limited number of times after. Most oils that are within smoking point and will be used again, should be refrigerated after the first use to avoid the oil becoming rancid. As soon as your oil or butter reaches smoking point for a recipe, make sure to turn the heat off momentarily before adding your ingredient, to avoid spluttering and kitchen accidents.