Beyond Olive Oil

Gourmet oils give everyday fare new complexity and verve.
Story: Jenna M. VanGrowski / Recipes: Maureen Callahan / Photography: Randy Mayor / Styling: Melanie J. Clarke

If you're well-acquainted with the bottle of extravirgin olive oil in your pantry, then it's time to get to know specialty oils, such as avocado, walnut, and hazelnut. They're often packaged in elegant bottles that speak enticingly from the shelves, suggesting vague (and romantic-sounding) uses. But these oils also work wonders in typical as well as unexpected applications-from salads to oatmeal to desserts.

While the flavor of specialty oils is concentrated, they still let other ingredients shine through. For example, shrimp and avocado are a natural pairing, so we used avocado oil in a simple spiced shrimp dish-first as cooking oil and then drizzled on for flavor. The result is a quick dish with an essence of avocado in every bite. Many of these recipes pair the oil with its nut source. Infusing Peanut Chicken Soba Salad with roasted peanut oil and sprinkling with chopped peanuts gives a double peanut hit.


Hazelnut Oil

What to look for: A light golden color, slightly darker than vegetable oil
Our favorite brands: From France-Jean-Marc Montegottero Virgin Hazelnut Oil ( www.dibruno.com) and Les Moulins Dorés ( www.splendidpalate.com)
Flavor profile: Toasty, smooth, delicate, buttery flavor
Uses: Great on sliced pears and Brie cheese, or drizzled over butternut squash with brown sugar. Can be used in place of vegetable oils in most vinaigrettes.

Roasted Peanut Oil
What to look for: Label should read "roasted" or "toasted" peanut oil. It will be darker and more flavorful than plain peanut oil, which is made from "steamed" peanuts, resulting in a mild flavor.
Our favorite brand: Loriva ( www.farawayfoods.com)
Flavor profile: Surprisingly strong peanut flavor, like fresh-packed peanuts
Uses: Drizzle over grilled shrimp or fish; toss with roasted asparagus; brush over grilled pineapple, and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Walnut Oil
What to look for: A light golden color, darker than vegetable oil
Our favorite brand: Loriva ( www.farawayfoods.com)
Flavor profile: Full-bodied, pleasing tasteful aroma
Uses: Blend with cream cheese and a bit of honey to make a delicious spread for a slice of quick bread (especially banana bread). Like hazelnut oil, it's a great addition to most vinaigrettes.

Pistachio Oil
What to look for: The darker green, the more flavor; slightly thicker than other nut oils
Our favorite brands: Castelmuro ( www.chefbernard.com) and Les Moulins Dorés ( www.splendidpalate.com)
Flavor profile: Strong but pleasant flavor, faintly sweet with a lingering finish
Uses: Sprinkle over fresh mozzarella with balsamic vinegar and cracked black pepper; brush over eggplant slices before grilling; toss with roasted beets and beet greens; use in homemade pesto.

Avocado Oil
How it's made: Oil is extracted from the flesh (not the seed) of ripe fruits. The riper the avocado, the darker and more flavorful the oil.
What to look for: Dark green color
Our favorite brand: Elysian Isle ( www.nzimportsinc.com)
Flavor profile: Slightly nutty, full-bodied
Uses: Drizzle over gazpacho; add to salsas; drizzle over toasted bread slices, and top with chopped fresh tomatoes; whisk with soy sauce and wasabi powder for a flavorful sushi or sliced cucumber dipping sauce. This oil has a higher smoking point than nut oils, so it can be used to grill, sauté, or stir-fry.

Truffle Oil
How it's made: A truffle is a highly prized mushroom that grows underground. Truffle oil is not pressed directly from the truffle; rather the truffle infuses the oil, most commonly olive oil or grapeseed oil.
What to look for: Unfortunately, there are no good visual cues to help select fine quality truffle oil. Price seems to be the better guide, and it is pricey. If stored for long periods, even high-quality truffle oil will lose its aroma and flavor, so buy in small quantities. Black and white truffle oils are the most common. White truffle oil is slightly milder than black truffle oil.
Our favorite brand: Sabatino Tartufi ( www.sabatinostore.com)
Flavor profile: Intense earthy flavor, pungent aroma
Uses: Use sparingly-a little bit goes a long way. Drizzle over pasta dishes; stir into homemade mushroom soup; use as a dipping oil for bread.