The problem with adding raw ingredients to under-heated oil is that the food will absorb the oil instead of cooking, and you'll end up with a greasy final dish.
Heat the oil too much, though, and your food cooks too quickly--the outside burning before the inside is cooked through.
So we can all be happy cooks, here are a few tricks to make sure your oil is just right!
One method is heating your frying pan first and then adding the oil.
When a few drops of water sizzle and evaporate upon contact with the pan, add the oil and swirl it around to coat the bottom. With such a thin coating, the oil will heat through in a matter of seconds.
Safety Note: Don't follow this method if you're using a pan with non-stick coating. Without a cooking medium in the pan, the coating can start to let off toxic fumes.
If you add oil to a cold pan and then heat both simultaneously, here are a few indicators that your oil is hot:
- When it flows smoothly "like water" and quickly coats the bottom of the pan.
- When the surface glistens and shimmers.
- When a small piece of food (a bit of garlic or a single piece of onion) sizzles immediately when added to the pan.
Unless you're deep-frying, remove the pan from heat immediately if you see wisps of smoke coming from the edges of the pan. This is an indication that the oil is too hot and is right at its smoke point.
Any other tricks we missed?
Related: How Much to Pay for Olive Oil?
(Images: Pan of Fried Fish, Hanoi, Hanoi, Vietnam, $34.99 at AllPosters.com)