Fear of saute: when will peanut oil smoke?

Joined Apr 30, 2002
First post, apologies if inappropriate.

I'm trying to get a nice crust on salmon filets, my recipe calls for 3-4 tbls peanut oil in the pan, sear 3 minutes on presentation side, then finish in a 425-degree oven.

Here's the thing:

The pan is supposed to be "medium-hot." I'm not getting much of a sizzle when the salmon goes in, but I'm afraid to go much hotter for fear the pan will smoke/spontaneously combust. How do I know when I've got the right temperature? How do I know when it's too hot and about to blow? I tried putting a drop of water in the pan, but that'll steam right off at 212 (and splatter the oil). Can't use a thermometer, because there's less than 1/8" of oil in there. Are there some tell-tale signs that the oil is ready? Should it be bubbling? Thanks.
Joined Jan 5, 2001
First of all, welcome Sonar8!

Second, you worry too much! Peanut oil has one of the highest smoke points of all the vegetable cooking oils, so don't worry about it spontaneously combusting on you.

If you really need to test your oil, never do it with water; you will hurt yourself and make a mess in your kitchen as it splatters all over. Try a small cube of bread instead. If it soaks up your oil, it's probably to low. If it browns immediately, you guessed it, too high. It should be somewhere in between. THis is one of those trial and error things. When you put your fish in, remember that the temperature of your oil willl come down a notch. If it's still too high, regulate the heat be removing the pan or turning down the heat. Use your instincts: they're probably right! ;)
Joined Mar 13, 2001
Hi Sonar8, welcome.

In addition to Anneke's post, I found an interesting chart concerning smoke points for cooking oils. Just click here for more.
Joined Apr 19, 2001
I would also add a plea not to use a nonstick pan; I just don't think they heat up enough to get a good sear.
Joined Jan 1, 2001
You may also want to try this site-www.goodeatsfanpage.com/CollectedInfo/OilSmokePoints.htm
Refined peanut oil has a very high smoke point, hence its use in turkey fryers.
My hunch is that your pan is not hot enough. The salmon should sizzle as soon as you lay it in the pan.
Are you using and electric or gas range? It's easy to visually judge the heat level with a gas range; not so with electric. Electric ranges are notorious for their lack of accurate temperature calibration. So if you aren't getting a sear, turn up the heat.
Using peanut oil and a good hood fan, I doubt you'll have spontaneous combustion if you're careful.
Good luck.
Joined May 26, 2001
Hi, Sonar8, and welcome! Your question is 100% appropriate -- and never fear, even if it were off-base, we'd still fall all over ourselves to help you!

In addition to everyone else's excellent comments and suggestions: what kind of pan are you using? Marmalady is absolutely right about NOT using non-stick. Sturdiness is also important -- you need something that holds the heat, not a flimsy, thin aluminum.

And another way to tell if the oil is hot enough: no, it won't bubble, but it will shimmer. You'll be able to see ripples forming and moving around, kind of like sand on a beach when the tide comes in.

And, as Anneke said, Don't worry! Go with your instincts, relax, have fun!
Joined Apr 30, 2002
Thanks for the advice y'all, I look forward to replying with good results. FYI, I'm cooking with gas, and I think it's a Calphalon "professional" (do professionals register at Macy's?) hard-anodized aluminum 12" omelette pan. But that's probably another post....Thanks again.


Joined Apr 4, 2000
Welcome to Chef Talk Sonar!

Good luck with your salmon & enjoy!
Joined Jul 31, 2000

Just to add a short addition to the well thought out responces before me,

I also only use NON stick pans, I have a fleet of them only for fin fish, These pans are seasoned like an omlette pan (salt and oil)

Maybe consider trying that.
Also, try using the least amount of oil when sauteeing salmon as possible, it's high fat content when cooked at high heat can omit a slight rancid aroma and flavor.

Next time try brushing your fillet with a little butter and sear it on medium high heat for a couple minutes, turn, tilt the pan to remove excess fat with a paper towel, and roast only for a moment or two in the oven.

You don't so much need a crust,
but a nice browned, carmalized flesh.

Joined Nov 10, 2001
Another thing to try sonar8. Use a hot cast iron grill pan and just oil the filet. Cook until it is crispy enough for you on the outside and then pop the pan in the oven.

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