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Sesame Oil, a featured ingredient

by Sharon Goldberg

Sauces, Seasonings, and Spices

Spring Volume: 1995 Issue: 2(1) page(s): 6

With it's rich amber color and distinctive flavor, and aroma, it is no wonder that sesame oil is a mainstay in the Chinese Kitchen. Because this oil has become so popular with many people who are not Chinese, you can often find it in your local supermarket, but usually it is sold in small to medium-sized bottles in Chinese grocery stores. Don't confuse it with clear sesame oil which is not made from toasted but rather from raw sesame seeds.

Those who use a lot of the sesame oil I am referring to, know that it is thin flowing and derived from pressing roasted white sesame seeds. They also know that the color of the seeds and the color of the oil itself can vary from light to dark amber and that the aroma is nutty and tantalizing, even seductive. They also should know this type of sesame oil is used as a flvoring agent because its rich taste lends itself well to soups, dressings, sauces, and a variety of entree dishes. The essense of this distinctive aromatic oil also helps to mask strong pungent flavors, and the aroma of fish dishes, without changing or overpowering them. As a flavoring agent, sesame oil is most often used at or near the end of cooking because it burns and smokes at low temperatures. Because it is unsuitable at high temperatures, this amber-colored oil is not suitable for frying.

Sesame oil is useful in the everyday American kitchen. For example, it is an attemp to cut down the use of butter while trying to maintain a low fat diet, I found it impossible to replace the butter flavor one gets when browning or sauteing. Sesame oil offered a flavorful solution. I now cook anything I would ordinarily saute in butter(i.e.: garlic, vegetables, and onions) in a small amount of water. At the end of the cooking process, I add several drops of sesame oil. The toasted flavor of sesame oil replaces the taste of 'browned' butter and adds its own unique qualities.

It is preferable to purchase sesame oil in glass bottles, it stays better than the newer packaging in plastic containers. Then store it in a cool dark pantry. Kept this way, sesame oil keeps about a year. If you use it infrequently, buy it in the smallest size available and store in the refrigerator; then be sure to bring it to room temperature before using. If you are addicted to purchasing things in the large economy size do so but after opening, transfer your oil to smaller, clean, dry, dark green or brown glass bottles. It will stay better that way because after it is opened less of it will be exposed to air.

The following recipe uses two ingredients made from toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil and sesame seed paste, which is another of my all time favorites:

Cold Noodles with Sesame Sauce
1 pound thin noodles or spaghetti
3 Tablespoons sesame oil
1/4 cup sesame seed paste
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3 Tablespoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon chili oil, or to taste
1/2 peeled thinly sliced cucumber
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 to 2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds*
1. Boil the noodles or spaghetti in 4 quarts of water until just done; do not overcook them. Drain and set aside to cool.
2. In a sauce pan, combine the sesame oil, sesame seed paste, ginger, garlic, sugar, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and chili oil. Cook this mixture over low heat until just warm; it takes about three to four minutes. Be sure to mix ingredients as it warms until you have a smooth paste-like sauce.
3. Allow this sauce mixture to cool a few minutes then pour it over the noodles or spaghetti; mix thoroughly.
4.Garnish with scallions and cucumber slices and top with sesame seeds.
Note To toast sesame seeds, put them in an empty fry pan and using medium heat, toast and stir until desired color. They will emit a lovely aroma. Do not make them too brown or they will be black in a second!

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