Sunday, March 4, 2012
delicata squash seed oil review
Marx sent me some delicata squash seed oil to review, and so of course the usual disclaimer applies - the oil was provided free, but I'll say whatever I like, this is not a sponsored post, etc etc.
The oil is from Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods, who make unrefined seed oils from several different squashes, including the delicata, acorn, butternut, and buttercup. I don't know if this affects the character of the oil, but what's interesting about the delicata and acorn squashes is that although they're used as winter squashes culinarily, they're from the same species, Cucurbita pepo, as all summer squashes (yellow squash, zucchini, etc).
It's particularly interesting to me because I like summer squash a lot less than winter squash - but I love this oil much more than the winter squash seed oil I've tried in the past. Now, I haven't tried Stony Brook's butternut or buttercup seed oils, so maybe the key difference here isn't the type of squash but their process. I mention it just because that surprised me. I've always really liked pumpkin seed oil, but this delicata squash seed oil - which I might not have tried unprompted, because of that lesser interest in summer squash - is terrific.
What it reminds me of more than anything is sesame oil, but even that comparison is a bit misleading - it's more that it's closer to sesame than to nut oils like walnut, pecan, pistachio, etc. It's a rich flavor certainly reminiscent of sesame seed oil - though richer - or like what you wish peanut oil tasted like, but with a little bit of a vegetal note that you don't generally find in seed oils. It's delicious. You'll immediately want to put it on things.
And that's easy to do - the photo there is of a little delicata squash seed oil over sweet shrimp and a cucumber slice, with black sesame seeds. Left out of the photo because I forgot it until after I'd clicked is a bit of salt - you definitely want to add a little salt to anything you're drizzling this oil over, if it's not salted already, because it really brings the flavor out, and because oil without a bit of salt can be a little dulled in flavor.
This is a great finishing oil - I tried it on warm beans with just enough vinegar to add some acidity, and it was a really nice lunch. Arikara yellow beans with a warm boiled egg, delicata oil, a little vinegar, and a little pepper:
Because it's similar to, but richer than, sesame oil, you can use it wherever you'd use sesame oil - stir-fries, fried rice, a few drops in a Korean jigae with seaweed and kimchi ... I highly recommend this oil in Asian cuisines (like sesame oil, it seems to really complement soy sauce well) and with green vegetables.
But here's the thing. Unlike nut oils, this has a fairly high smoke point - 425 degrees. That means you can cook with it, and that gets really interesting.
With a smoke point that high, you could actually deep-fry with it, but I'm afraid even if I used my smallest cast-iron pan, the bottle's just not enough oil to submerge anything, so I didn't try that. I mean, let's be honest, that would probably be a waste anyway - it'd be a hell of a lot of oil, and generally speaking you don't want to deep-fry in strongly flavored fats. But it's very cool that you could.
What's more practical is simple stir-frying (albeit not in a high heat wok), sauteing, that kind of thing. Again, green vegetables are highly recommended - this oil is great to cook some greens in, with a little crushed garlic and ginger.
Fry or scramble some eggs in it - that's what we had for brunch today, eggs whisked with soy sauce, cream, and kimcheese (my blend of cheddar cheese and kimchi juice) and poured into a pan where a little leftover rice was stir-fried with delicata squash seed oil. (I also folded in a chopped still-warm boiled egg, and topped it with chopped scallions and okra cooked with soy sauce and ddukbokki hot sauce.)
One of my favorite things that I tried was roasted asparagus. Now, I roast asparagus at 450 degrees, which is higher than the oil's smoke point. But I don't think the food actually reaches 450 degrees in the 12-15 minutes it takes asparagus to roast, especially since the cooking surface (the cast-iron pan I use) isn't preheated. I certainly didn't notice a burnt taste or off-flavors to the oil - I drizzled just a little of it, rolled the asparagus spears (root ends snapped off) in it, roasted it, and sprinkled it with coarse salt and a little banana vinegar. (By all means feel free to use malt vinegar or something - I happen to have just bought banana vinegar and I'm trying it in everything.)