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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

TIP OF THE DAY: Try Coconut Oil

When Dr. Bronner’s asked us to take a look at their new virgin coconut oil, we turned to our chef, Johnny Gnall, for inspiration. Virgin coconut oil is a heart-healthy oil that improves blood cholesterol by increasing the ratio of HDL to LDL. Dr. Bronner’s produces two varieties: a whole kernel version, which has a more intense coconut flavor, and a white kernel version, which has a lighter coconut flavor. Here are Chef Johnny’s tips for how to use the coconut oil:

When it comes to culinary oils, there are quite a few out there to choose from (see our Culinary Oils Glossary). Rice bran oil is ideal for frying or searing due to its high smoke point; sesame oil is used for its round, nutty flavor, particularly in Asian cuisine; in baking, many recipes recommend canola oil.

Recently, I tried a fresh-pressed, unrefined coconut oil—an ingredient I don’t use very often.

Dr. Bronner’s brand, well known for its natural personal care products and its commitment to sustainability and Fair Trade ingredients, recently began to produce a line of food products,* including Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One! Fair Trade & Organic Fresh-Pressed Virgin Coconut Oil. Long name but good stuff.

 

Dr. Bronner’s virgin coconut oils in whole kernel (brown label) and white kernel. Photo
courtesy FairTradeHelps.org.

 

*Coconut oil is also well known as a beauty product, for skin and hair.

Foggy San Francisco must have had me yearning for the tropical, as I spent several days experimenting with the virgin coconut oil. I ended up with a handful of fresh (or maybe tried and true, in the tropics) ideas that turn up the sweet on some familiar foods.

There are a couple of general points to bear in mind when you cook with coconut oil.

  • First, watch the heat. Coconut oil’s smoke point is only around 350°F, so it will burn if you turn the heat too high and don’t keep an eye on things. Medium heat is best: You can still get plenty of caramelization if you wish.
  • Second, different fats and oils emulsify in different ways. So if you decide to substitute coconut oil in a recipe that calls for your oil to be emulsified, it may behave differently than you expect, depending on what other ingredients you’re working with. It’s most likely still doable, but pay attention.
  •  
    I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to what may be the best part of cooking with coconut oil: the heavenly aroma that wafts up to you as you cook. I could inhale it deeply all day!

    Your mouth will water as you breathe in the tropical perfume, perhaps conjuring hula girls and glorious sunsets in your head. What better way to whet guests’ appetites than by filling the house with the heavenly aroma of coconut?

    Try these applications as a jumping off point:

     

    Coconut oil makes a delicious glaze for
    salmon. Photo courtesy Vital Choice.

     

    Baking Trays: This trick is simple and subtle, but can yield exceptional results. Try greasing your baking trays with coconut oil. From muffin tins to cake pans, anything you plan on baking at 350°F can benefit from a a little tropical goodness. You may not notice it in bigger and bolder desserts, but when its subtle presence does register, you’ll have a new, delicious layer of flavor in your baked treats.

    Caramelized Onions: Simply caramelize onions as you normally would, but use coconut oil in place of butter or other oil. Just remember to adjust your heat accordingly, in order to keep the coconut oil from smoking.

    Chicken (with skin on): Whenever you cook skin-on chicken pieces, you should be starting them out by seasoning them well and searing them in a very hot pan. If you don’t, you’re missing out on the amazingness that is crispy chicken skin. It’s a little indulgent, sure; but eaten in moderation you have little to worry about. The next time you want to get your skin crispy, do it in coconut oil. You may never go back to your previous oil.

     

    Glaze/Sauce For Fish: In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, 1 tablespoon of butter, a teaspoon of rice vinegar, a tablespoon of sambal chili paste, the zest of an orange, the juice of half an orange and a tablespoon of black sesame seeds. Try it on salmon; you’ll be very happy you did.

    Grilled Corn: Save this tip for local summer corn. Slather the ear of corn in coconut oil, wrap it in foil and throw it on the grill. For added flavor intensity, remove the foil for the last few minutes. Summer corn just got even sweeter!

    Hearty Grains: From amaranth to barley to farro and even polenta (see our Grains Glossary for more ideas), cook the grains as you normally would. Then fold in coconut oil a tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired flavor profile. A few drops of acid (citrus, vinegar or other favorite) for pop and the right amount of seasoning will make any grain prepared like this taste truly exceptional.

    Pad Thai: A couple tablespoons of peanut butter, a squeeze of lime juice, a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of fish sauce and a tablespoon of coconut oil create a quick and and easy Pad Thai sauce. This is not a traditional recipe by any means, but it is on par and definitely delicious. Make the dish with your choice of noodles (I’m partial to wide rice noodles), protein (shrimp and egg for me, but chicken, pork and tofu will work), and garnish (mung bean sprouts, crushed peanuts, sliced green onions, more lime juice and a generous spoonful of sambal). There’s no need to go out for pad thai when it’s so easy to make at home.

    Popcorn: Use coconut oil to pop your corn, using the old-fashioned, sans-microwave method. Simply drop a tablespoon or two of coconut oil into the pot before the corn kernels, and you’ll end up with popcorn scented gently with that incredible coconut aroma. A little bit of salt and butter, and you’re good to go.

    Seared Mushrooms: If you can get your hands on some big King Trumpet mushrooms, they’re ideal for this application, cut into just 2 or 3 thick slices lengthwise to preserve the integrity of their shape. If not, standard white/button mushrooms are fine; slice them as you would the King Trumpets, into thick slices. Get the coconut oil to just before smoking point and drop in the mushrooms, taking care to get each piece against the pan and everything in a single layer. Then simply keep an eye on them and be patient. After 5 to 8 minutes, flip one piece over. If you see a luscious golden-brown coloring on one side, give the pan a shake to flip the rest. The coconut flavor gets infused into the meat of the mushroom and the resulting sweet umami treat is unique and incredible. Make sure to season with salt and pepper, but not until after you flip the mushrooms.

    Spinach & Other Greens You need nothing more than the greens, the coconut oil, salt and pepper. Sauté the greens until wilted and season to taste: Getting kids and resistant adults to eat their vegetables may become a whole lot easier. (One note: This doesn’t work well with collard greens. Collards are the one kind of hearty green that need more than a sauté to cook down to an edible pleasantness. You either have to braise them for a while, or at least blanch them prior to sautéing. Other greens like chard, kale and spinach wilt/break down more easily, and can therefore be easily sautéed).

    If you can’t find Dr. Bronner’s virgin coconut oils locally (try natural food and health food stores), both white kernel and whole kernel oils are available on Amazon.

      





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