Whenever I teach cooking classes around New York, there is one question that is asked in almost every single class: What is the best healthy oil to use for Chinese cooking? This question used to be pretty tough to answer.
You see, in Chinese cooking, the most common oils to use are peanut and canola. The wok is the most common cooking vessel, and to cook with it you need oils that can be used at very high temperatures. While I don't think peanut and canola oil are bad for you in moderate amounts, many commercial brands are chemically processed. Plus, rapeseed (used to make canola oil) is often sprayed with pesticides, so you'd need to look for organic, expeller-presssed canola oil.
Olive oil that isn't extra virgin is okay for medium-heat cooking, but often Chinese cooking requires very high heat. Toasted sesame oil is one of our pantry staples, but it has a very low smoke point and should only be used in sauces or added towards the end of cooking, not as the main cooking oil.
So for many months I was on the quest to find a neutral-tasting cooking oil that would be good for high-heat cooking. Earlier in the summer I came across Chosen Foods' avocado oil, a cold-pressed and naturally refined oil that has a smoke point of 500 degrees. I had to give it a try.
(For years I thought avocado oil would, well, taste like avocados. And had been skeptical about trying it for Chinese food. But Chosen Foods' avocado oil, which has a faint buttery avocado flavor if you try it straight from the bottom, is neutral-tasting once you actually cook with it. Other brands may have a stronger avocado or woodsy flavor.)
Chosen Foods and I decided to partner together on a post. Over the past month, I've tested the avocado oil in all sorts of situations. Frying eggs. Making kung pao chicken or lemon chicken. Pan-frying dumplings, stir-frying eggplants, and frying curry leaves when Chitra and I were recipe-testing for Tangra Summer. It worked so well in every situation, even when it involved deep-frying. It's high in vitamin E and monounsaturated fats, the good heart-heathy fats also found in nuts and olive oil. And did I mention it's made from sustainably-grown Mexican Hass avocados? Now I'm a total avocado oil convert.
And Chosen Foods has just launched on the east coast. In New York, it's now available at Costco locations. To celebrate its east coast launch, we're teaming up to do a giveaway of a 500 ml bottle of Chosen Foods Avocado Oil and a copy of The Chinese Takeout Cookbook. Details at the end of the post!
But let's talk about these noodles first. In addition to all the aforementioned recipe testing, I wanted to really put it to the test by pan-frying noodles. I decided to make Shanghai noodles, a dish of thick and toothsome noodles with a fair amount of vegetables and a slightly spicy and faintly sweet sauce. This is normally a rather oily dish, but I was able to cook everything, including lightly pan-frying the noodles, with just 1 tablespoon of avocado oil. (You can make this with either squarish Shanghai-style noodles, which are kind of hard to find outside of China, or the more widely available udon noodles.)
I made a vegetarian version of this dish (normally served with pork) but that doesn't mean you can't throw in leftover shredded chicken or shrimp. Also, you would normally use Napa cabbage, but my favorite local grocery store had some great-looking Shanghai bok choy (the larger of the baby bok choys) and I decided, why not? It's still a member of the cabbage family. Plus, the name fits.
The leaves and stems should be chopped into long thin strips, like this:
Then you just stir-fry it in the pan with the rest of the vegetables like this:
Then add the noodles, stir-frying for a quick minute, add the sauce, and toss to coat, until you end up with a dish that looks like this:
Now for the giveaway! (Open to U.S.-based readers.) To enter for a chance to win a copy of The Chinese Takeout Cookbook + 1 500 ml bottle of Chosen Foods Avocado Oil, just leave a comment and let me know what Asian dish you would like to try cooking with avocado oil. You can get one additional entry by tweeting a public message about the giveaway and linking back to this page, then leaving a URL to that tweet in a comment on this post. You can enter the giveaway from now until September 10th. Winners will be announced by random draw and will be notified by email. (Update: Congratulations to Tanya Both from San Francisco!)
Is anyone else a recent avocado oil convert?
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 16 ounces fresh udon noodles or Shanghai-style noodles (or 8 ounces dried)
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil
- 1 tsp garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
- 2 scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
- 1 pound Shanghai bok choy or baby bok choy, leaves and stems chopped into long thin strips
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon chili sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil, to taste
- Soak the shiitake mushrooms in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes, until softened. Drain the shiitakes and squeeze out the excess water into the bowl. Discard the stems of the mushrooms and finely chop the caps.
- If you're using fresh udon noodles, bring a pot of water to boil and boil the noodles for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water, and shake off the excess water. If you're using dried noodles, cook them according to package instructions until al dente (usually the least amount of time listed on the package.) Drain, rinse under cold water, and shake off the excess water.
- Prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, water, hoisin sauce, chili sauce, and sesame oil.
- Heat the avocado oil in a wok or large skillet. Add the garlic, ginger, and scallion whites and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, just until aromatic. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the bok choy and carrot and cook for another 1 minute.
- Add the noodles and stir-fry them for 1 minute. Pour in the sauce and toss with tongs so the noodles are well-coated.
- Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the scallion greens.