Deep frying with extra virgin olive oil is a hot topic. We know because we hear the myth that it can’t be done. Mediterranean cooks, however, have been deep frying foods in extra virgin olive oil for a long time. We are particularly big fans of fish tacos or churros deep fried with extra virgin olive oil. French fries made with extra virgin olive oil get rave reviews, too. Just be sure you know the oil’s temperature.
“You can deep fry with extra virgin olive oil,” cookbook author and olive oil aficionado Fran Gage told us. “There is a popular misconception that extra virgin olive oil cannot be heated to the temperatures needed to deep fry.”
Gage should know. She recounted using extra virgin olive oil to prepare “fabulous” French fries for a lunch celebrating the publication of her book, The New American Olive Oil (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009).
The key: Avoid turning the heat up too high. A high-quality extra virgin olive oil’s smoke point – the temperature at which the oil begins to break down and smoke – generally is put at 410 degrees Fahrenheit, giving you plenty of leeway for many types of cooking.
For example, Gage heated the extra virgin olive oil for her French fries to 380 degrees Fahrenheit. Always check the oil’s temperature using a thermometer you can hook to the side of the pan or pot you’re using to deep fry.
You don’t even need to go as high as Gage did when deep frying with extra virgin olive oil, according to California chef Dory Ford.
“I would never turn my deep fryer higher than 340 degrees Fahrenheit, even with other types of oil. We’re only trying to make the outside of the food crispy,” said Ford, chef-owner of Aqua Terra Culinary, a Pebble Beach, Calif., firm that handles catering, event planning, and menu consulting.
Ford told us he deep fries with extra virgin olive oil, and reuses the oil for other cooking. Pointing to the high level of beneficial monounsaturated fats in extra virgin olive oil, he said it’s a matter of good health and taste.
“It’s a more healthful way of cooking,” Ford noted. “It adds flavor.”
Sweet-potato fries made with extra virgin olive oil are a case in point. “They cease to be plain old boring sweet-potato fries,” Ford said.
If you need more evidence, look to the Mediterranean. Mediterranean food expert Nancy Harmon Jenkins noted chefs and cooks there “wouldn’t dream of sautéeing, braising, and even deep-frying with anything else.”
Writing in Saveur magazine, she added: “The fact is, most extra virgin olive oils work for high-temperature techniques like frying and searing just as well as other cooking oils.”
Your friends at California Olive Ranch