With the election approaching, candidate debates are being dished up on red and blue platters. In the food arena, debates have been raging between various culinary camps for decades - butter vs. margarine, egg yolk heads vs. cholesterol counters, etc. I'm now sitting in the moderator's seat for this healthy eating and safe food debate, covering hot-button issues.
Oil: Fatty Friends vs. Fatty Foes
Here's the skinny on fats: Different oils are better suited for certain cooking modes and recipes, while some should just be bypassed. Although it's fine to cook with the heart-healthy olive oil and sesame seed oil, using these at high temperatures (such as in frying) changes their molecular structures, actually reversing the health effects. Both can be simmered and are superb in salad dressings. Olive oil has recently been heralded as a natural painkiller and anti-inflammatory. Sesame oil contains the anti-carcinogenic substance, lignan, as well as phytosterols that block cholesterol production.
Grapeseed oil is a good pick for heavy-duty frying with a high flash point, about 420 degrees Fahrenheit. It is also high in vitamins A, C and beta-carotene, an antioxidant, and has a placid flavor personality that doesn't overpower other foods, making it a good baking oil too.
Peanut oil is good for stir-frying, but should be used with caution due to the increasing number of peanut allergies developing in this country.
Canola oil, the acronym for "CANadian Oil Low Acid" is produced from our northern neighbors. Canola's considered a healthy oil with one of the lowest ratios of saturated to unsaturated fat, but the crop seeds are genetically modified (GM) with foreign bodies to make them unpalatable to pests. Since there is a lot of apprehension about these GMs, cooks are steering clear of these Frankenstein products.
Wild vs. Farm Raised
The world is your oyster except if it's laced with PCBs, mercury, antibiotics and synthetic colorings. Salmon and other coldwater oily fish like sardines loaded with omega-3 fatty acids are good for the heart, reduce cancer risks, arthritis and even help "weighty" problems. Please be mindful though of the differences between farm raised and wild caught so you can get the most health benefits with the least risks.
Farm raised salmon are confined to crowded ocean pens making them more susceptible to diseases than their wild caught siblings. To control infections, aqua farmers pump them with antibiotics and other potent drugs. They also scarf down pellets containing ground contaminated fish instead of the ocean's buffet that wilds feast on, making the latter beautifully pink from eating krill which contains an orange-hued carotenoid. The farm raised grayish flesh is cosmetically corrected by the use of artificial food colorings.
Finally, farm raised salmon contains the highest levels of toxic PCBs in the entire food supply system. Since they have more fat deposits than their wild counterparts, they have more reservoirs for PCB hibernation. So when possible, choose wild over farm raised, and always trim the skin and fat before cooking to remove any stored PCBs.
Domestic vs. Imported
Buying from your own backyard is best (or at least from your own country). Stephenie Caughlin, owner/grower of Seabreeze Organic Farm in San Diego, believes that "local food is local security, and the person who grows your food should not be anonymous."
China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Costa Rica have recently been responsible for importing foodborne foes to our homes from melamine-flavored pet food to salmonella-tainted melons. These industrially and mom-and-pop produced commodities are subject to little or no policing for levels of antibiotics, pesticides and other contaminants.
Currently more than $70 billion of imported foods are landing in our supermarkets increasing the chances of developing food illnesses. So if in doubt, leave it out or buy domestic (and organic).
On my scorecard, the debate winners are grapeseed oil, domestic foods and wild caught fish. In honor of this last winner, here's a wild salmon burger that's a shoe-in for the next round of food debates.
Wild Salmon Burgers
- 1 pound of fresh wild caught salmon filet (skin and fat removed)
- 1 teaspoon of grapeseed or olive oil
- 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon of horseradish mustard
- 2 scallions
- Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
- Panko bread crumbs
Place the salmon in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the oil, juice, mustard, scallions and seasonings and pulse until blended well. Add the bread crumbs until the mixture forms a firm texture. Form into the patty size of your choice.
Heat grapeseed oil in a large skillet. Pan fry the patty for about 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Garnish with heirloom tomatoes, grilled red onions and spicy mayo slathered on a focaccio bun.