As well as exotic spices, one of the most integral aspects of Indian cooking is the oil used. Some of the most popular oils used in Indian cuisine are the mustard oil and ghee, as well as groundnut oil, coconut oil and sesame oil.
Not only do they impart a delicious flavour, another reason for using these cooking oils is that they have extremely high smoke points. The temperature at which fat begins to smoke is usually above 232C. This high smoke point means that meats will seal rapidly when being fried, and also make them ideal for deep-fat frying.
Ghee is perhaps the first oil that springs to mind when thinking of Indian cooking oils and is widely used in all regions of India. Ghee is essentially clarified butter but the proteins have been removed from it. This involves cooking butter slowly and separating the liquid from the solids.
Flavoured oils, however, are also associated with Indian cuisine. Mustard oil, in particular, is used nearly as much as ghee, particularly in the north and east of India. It imparts a strong cabbage-like smell and when eaten raw, it tastes nutty. The flavour mellows when heated to its smoke point, becoming slightly hot and sweeter. All kinds of mustard seeds are used to make this oil: brown, black and white. It is used in pickles as well as for cooking, and has cultural significance as it is used for fuel in clay lamps for the Diwali festival.
Coconut oil is mostly used in southern India, Goa, and Sri Lanka where it is either used to impart flavour or for frying. Its taste is very smooth and goes very well with fish. Coconut oil can be made by either drying or pressing the coconut flesh to remove all the oil content (the dry process), or by shredding the kernel and mixing with water to produce coconut milk (the wet process). After the oil is extracted, it must be heated, filtered and hydrogenated to make it suitable for cooking.
Sesame oil is most commonly associated with Chinese cuisine, but is also used a lot in southern India, especially in Tamil Nadu where it is referred to as gingelly oil. Its raw form is odourless and mild, and clear or light yellow in colour. It has an extremely high smoke point, which makes it ideal for deep fat frying. The more well-known form of sesame oil is the toasted variety It appears light brown in colour and has a strong and distinctive burnt-nutty taste and smell.
Peanut oil is generally used in the north and west of India and gives off a taste and flavour of peanuts that is perfect for satay. It also has a very high smoke point, meaning it is very good for frying.
Michelin-starred Amaya skilfully uses all of these flavoured cooking oils in their dishes – fusing grilled Indian flavours with Eastern influences. They offer their diners a selection of finest and outstanding biryanis, sensational wok fry, and curries.