Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Coconut Oil Adds Flavor to Fish, Roasted Beans

I am a recent coconut oil convert.

Two summers ago I was a skeptic. I attended a cooking class during which the chef/instructor zealously declared coconut oil to be a healthy fat. (She also uses lard with abandon.)  I was downright irritated to hear her tout this saturated fat as important to a nutritious diet and claim we should use it freely.

I perched on my soapbox, knowing in my heart that all saturated fat is evil.

It turns out that we were both wrong to an extent. Scientists and nutritionists now find that coconut fat is fine, in moderation.  While there is no scientific data that support claims of coconut being a health food, there is proof that lauric acid, the main fatty acid in coconut oil, behaves differently from other saturated fats.  And, while lauric acid does raise levels of HDL and LDL, it does not seem to negatively affect their overall ratio. Federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10 percent of total dietary calories per day come from saturated fats. Judicious use of coconut oil can fit into a healthy diet, after all. 

So when the local farmer, from whom I bought vegetables this week, told me I needed to roast his beans in coconut oil, I couldn’t wait to get home and try it. The oil adds wonderful slightly nutty and vanilla flavor, and its clean sweetness enhances the caramel flavor of roasted vegetables. When the fish in this recipe is sautéed in coconut oil, there is a mild coconut flavor that compliments the Thai seasonings.

Coconut oil is sold in jars with oils or in organic sections of most grocery stores, and is solid at room temperature.

The bottom line is that when a little extra coconut taste is what you are after, by all means go for pan-frying, sautéing, roasting, and baking with coconut oil. It now resides in my pantry beside the extra-virgin olive oils, and I consider the flavor that fits the dish when I choose between them.

Coconut Curry Fish and Roasted Beans

1/3 to 1/2 pound thin green beans, ends trimmed
2 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
2 tablespoons coconut milk
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons green curry paste
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup organic unsweetened grated coconut
2 (4- to 5-ounce) white-flesh fish fillets, such as halibut, cod, or tilapia
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves

            Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss green beans with 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil; spread in a single layer in a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until just tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Keep warm.
Meanwhile, combine coconut milk, soy sauce, green curry paste, lime juice, and sugar in a bowl.  Stir and set aside.
Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1/2 tablespoon of the remaining coconut oil, and swirl to melt and coat skillet.  Add coconut, and stir-fry until lightly toasted.  Remove from skillet, and set aside.
Pat fish dry with paper towels; season lightly with salt..  Melt remaining 1 tablespoon coconut oil in skillet over medium-high heat, swirling to coat skillet.  Add fish fillets; cover and cook 2 minutes. Uncover and turn fish fillets, drizzle with coconut milk mixture. Cover and cook until fish flakes when gently flaked with a fork, about 1 to 2 minutes (roughly 4 to 5 minutes total cooking time per inch of thickness).
To serve, toss beans with half of toasted coconut. Arrange fish and beans on serving plates; sprinkle fish with remaining toasted coconut and cilantro. Makes 2 servings.

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debby maugans
from the author of Small-Batch
Birmingham News   Table
Small Batch Bistro
Asheville City Market