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While olive oil is a kitchen staple—something home cooks and professionals alike reach for day in and day out as a go-to fat—it's still remarkably confusing to shop for. There has, of course, been quite a bit of controversy surrounding its harvest and authenticity. At the same time, there’s increased awareness of the nuance in olive oil flavor and terroir—thus a crowded, confusing field becomes even more unwieldy to navigate. In cases like these, it’s always best to go to the experts: chefs themselves.
Still, even chefs have a variety of preferences—and place varying levels of importance on the specific brand—when it comes to olive oil. To some, like Amanda Cohen, the chef at New York City’s Dirt Candy, there’s nothing precious about olive oil. Even though she says she’s up to her elbows in it all day long, using it in salad dressings, as a finisher, and as her go-to cooking oil, she has no specific favorite. “I use whatever my supplier brings me, in part because I like to try new oils all the time, but in part because I’m lazy,” she says. “To be honest, they all cook up pretty much the same, with really only minor variations.”
On the other hand, Samin Nosrat, author and host of Netflix's Salt Fat Acid Heat likes to remind people that it’s important to be conscientious; to her it’s not a matter of cooking with cheap oil and finishing with something a bit more expensive, because the overall quality will always make a difference. “Whatever oil you cook with becomes to foundation of the food,” she says, “So I want my daily oil to be good oil.”
Keeping in mind that tastes are specific and personal, we asked five chefs about their go-to olive oils hoping to make our own shopping a little easier.
Claire Saffitz, Contributing Editor at Bon Appétit: Frantoia Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Bon Appétit’s Claire Saffitz uses olive oil every single day. “Like my dad says, ‘It's more medicine than food!’” she says. “I use it for searing, sautéing, frying eggs, dressing salads...I also use it often in baking, especially cakes and quick breads.” Though it’s not right for every dish—she wouldn’t use it as the primary oil in an aïoli, for example, because of its strong flavor—Saffitz loves to cook with Frantoia oil. “[It] has nice balance between peppery and fruity,” she says. For finishing dishes, though, lately she’s been reaching for Frankie's, and come November, she will be buying new oil from Katz for its “incredible aroma and flavor.”
Samin Nosrat, Author of Salt Fat Acid Heat: Seka Hills Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Nosrat knows a thing or two about olive oil after living in Italy, and now she refers to it as a staple of her cooking whose only rival is salt itself. “It so defines the flavor of my food that sometimes I get sick of it,” she says.
Nosrat loves Italian olive oil, but chooses to stay local for her main bottles to reduce her carbon footprint. Her favorite brand is Seka Hills, made in Brooks, California, by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation; she describes it as a little grassy and a little spicy: “It just tastes vibrant and alive,” she says. It's also available on Amazon stored in a bag inside a box, which is the best way to buy your olive oil in bulk as it will keep it fresher longer. For a more widely available oil, Nosrat recommends the organic extra virgin olive oil on Costco’s shelves.
Katie Parla, Author of Food of the Italian South: La Villana Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Another writer whose thoughts on olive oil are informed by a long tenure in Italy is Katie Parla, author of many cookbooks covering the cuisine, most recently Food of the Italian South: Recipes for Classic, Disappearing, and Lost Dishes. “For lunch, I typically make a frittata or a salad and only extra virgin olive oil will do for cooking or using raw,” she says. “Most of the pasta, meat, and fish dishes I make for dinner use olive oil in the cooking process and I often drizzle extra virgin olive oil over rested meat and fish before serving.”
At home in Rome, Parla always has two to three go-to bottles open that usually come from friends who make their own or that she’s purchased while on travel assignments. “For people traveling around Italy, I suggest picking up bottles of olive oil at organic farms or shops that carry small production extra virgin olive oil,” she says. “Natural wine shops also frequently have olive oil from natural wine producers and that is always made in a way that guarantees a pure and natural product.” When back in the United States, though, she reaches for the big metal containers of La Villana olive oil imported by Louis Dressner.
Manuel González Charles, Chef at Society Cafe: Olivar Santamaria Picual Olive Oil
One chef who gets very technical about his olive oil is chef Manuel González Charles at New York’s Society Cafe, who has become famous for his olive oil pancakes. He swears by oils only from Jaen, Spain. “My workhorse is the Olivar Santamaria Picual, he says. “This olive oil is great for vinaigrette, pasta and pizza dough as well to bake focaccia. We also use this extra virgin olive oil as a major component in our olive oil pancakes at Society Cafe. It has an acidity of 0.17% and a smoke point of 405° F, which makes it great for hot preparations as well.”
When the olive oil flavor will be more at the forefront of a dish, he reaches for Olivar Santamaria Organic Picual. “It has an acidity of .20% and it makes it great for finishing dishes such as pastas, raw dishes and salads,” he says.
BUY IT: Khayyan Olivar Santamaria Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 500 milliliters, $14 at Supermarket Italy or $19 at Best Olive Oils Marketplace
Originally Appeared on Epicurious