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I see many chefs/people in food channels who use olive oil to fry stuff (like salmon). However, when I add olive oil for frying it quickly burns releasing dark smoke. Is there a specific type of olive oil that they use for frying that doesn't burn? or am I just possibly doing something wrong?

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Related: Is cooking with olive oil bad or toxic? –  Aaronut Aug 4 '12 at 14:25
    
Peanut/groundnut oil has high breakdown temperature. It's also more expensive than ordinary cooking oil but certainly cheaper than olive oil. –  Blessed Geek Aug 14 '12 at 6:30

3 Answers 3

up vote 20 down vote accepted

You're heating the oil past its smoke point.

There is no trick or technique that will prevent oil from smoking and oxidizing ("burning") at temperatures above the smoke point. It is literally being slowly destroyed at that temperature.

I honestly don't know why TV chefs are so attached to the idea of cooking with olive oil when most serious attempts to compare it to other oils (for frying purposes) strongly indicate that it loses all or almost all of its unique taste by the end. Some cite dubious health benefits, but the low smoke point of virgin/extra virgin olive oil may also make it worse for you health-wise due to exactly what you've witnessed - smoke and oxidation.

EVOO is great as a dressing but it's a terrible choice as a cooking oil. If you absolutely must imitate these confused TV chefs, you can either fry at very low temperatures (as in, just barely a sizzle), which will take considerably more time, or used a refined (not virgin) olive oil which has a much higher smoke point. These would typically be the "cheap" olive oils you find in large plastic or metal containers.

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I am currently making the transition from (non-virgin) olive oil to grapeseed oil, the latter being much more versatile, I find. –  ElendilTheTall Aug 4 '12 at 15:07
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Frying in "just barely a sizzle" is the wrong frying temperature for many things. It is not just that you need more time, starches can soak up the oil, getting greasy. But if you really want the taste of "fried in olive oil", you can fry the item in neutral oil, then lightly brush on it EVOO and return it to the pan for 3-4 seconds (so the oil will warm up without burning). –  rumtscho Aug 4 '12 at 15:29
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@rumtscho: Yes, it is the wrong temperature... just like EVOO is the wrong oil. It'll still cook, it's just that the end result won't be particularly desirable, hence "if you must". That's good advice about the brush though. –  Aaronut Aug 4 '12 at 16:22
    
@ElendilTheTall: Indeed, every "serious" cookbook and chef (that I am aware of) tends to recommend frying with a neutral oil or clarified butter. Very little flavour is imparted during those few minutes, so there's very little point in using a flavoured oil; most of the flavour is either going to come from marinating/brining/rubbing/seasoning beforehand or saucing/brushing/seasoning afterward. Any olive oil is just going to limit your options vis-a-vis the before and after, because even a subtle hint of olive (which may taste like nothing on its own) can seriously clash with other flavours. –  Aaronut Aug 4 '12 at 16:29
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What makes olive oil "virgin" or "extra-virgin" is avoiding air contact in the pressing process - it is graded by the "acid value", and that increases if the oil oxidises. The oxidation which results from frying with it changes it into an inferior grade as it fries! Having said that, there is a "black" form of olive oil that can impart a unique and interesting taste when used for frying. I had a bottle from a factory in Northern Cyprus once, wish I had bought more. Never seen it in a shop. –  klypos Aug 4 '12 at 19:20

Actually extra virgin olive oil has one of highest smoke points so it's perfect for frying. The only problem is that it's expensive. Probably you are using a refined olive oil or a cheap one that has a low smoke point ..try to use extra virgin and not to over heat the oil not only to avoid burning the oil but also to avoid undercooking the food. Regular vegetable oils degrade when heated beyond the smoke point and because of their low smoke point they start forming free fatty acids which are bad for health. Extra virgin olive oil is more stable with a high smoke point and will not loss it's beneficial properties by frying or heating that's why it's preferable oil for cooking and frying.

Some more information:

Olive oil is ideal for frying. In proper temperature conditions, without over-heating, it undergoes no substantial structural change and keeps its nutritional value better than other oils, not only because of the antioxidants but also due to its high levels of oleic acid. Its high smoking point (210ºC) is substantially higher than the ideal temperature for frying food (180ºC). Those fats with lower critical points, such as corn and butter, break down at this temperature and form toxic products.

Another advantage of using olive oil for frying is that it forms a crust on the surface of the food that impedes the penetration of oil and improves its flavour. Food fried in olive oil has a lower fat content than food fried in other oils, making olive oil more suitable for weight control. Olive oil, therefore, is the most suitable, the lightest and the tastiest medium for frying.

It goes further than other oils, and not only can it be re-used more often than others, it also increases in volume when reheated, so less is required for cooking and frying.

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The downvotes are because you've got it backwards. Extra Virgin olive oil has a low smoke point. Refining oils (olive oil included) raises the smoke point. –  Jolenealaska Jun 18 at 10:22

You want to use 'extra light' olive oil, not 'extra virgin'.

It's more refined, and has a significantly higher smoke point. It's closer to 240°C, while many other oils used for frying, such as peanut oil, smoke well below that temperature.

Don't just go for the cheap bottle of olive oil and assume that the price indicates that it's 'extra light' ... there are a number of companies that will blend olive oil with some other oil to reduce the price, but it doesn't necessarily increase the smoke point.

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