Red palm oil is used in cuisines across the world. It is a base for a number of West African stews and sauces. In Nigerian cuisine, it saturates the dishes of the tropical southern, western, and eastern regions. To make it, the fleshy fruit of the tropical African palm tree is pressed, and the unrefined rust-hued oil bottled. Most red palm oil used in West African cuisine is sourced sustainably and locally; for thousands of years it has been used as a source of nutrition and for medicinal purposes. In its refined form, the oil has a host of other uses, some of them industrial, some as the base ingredient for commercial food production—most of the planet’s chocolate, for instance. Its commercial cultivation is deeply troubling; but its use in traditional cuisines predates its commercial use by thousands of years.
In my Brooklyn kitchen, I stir this silky and fruit-forward oil into a pot of stew. I make vibrantly colored soups. I use it in vinaigrettes. Red palm oil has a low smoke point, so it is not ideal for frying or roasting. But it’s fantastic for poaching.
I use red palm oil to create a confited blend of alliumns—shallots, white and purple onions, garlic scapes, and scallions. I gently caramelize them with fresh bay leaves and thyme in a red palm oil blend. A small amount of red palm oil will go a long way, so for this recipe, I also incorporate a neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed. Blending the oil also ensures the slow poach doesn’t cook out the flavors of the delicate palm oil.
I have found the best time to make this recipe is when I have a few hours before my dinner guests arrive. As the vegetables do their low, slow poach in the oil, they fill my kitchen with a caramelly, roasted alium scent, and I can prepare other dishes in the meantime. (As a note of caution, the oil will lend its lively glow to your pots, work surfaces, and linens, so plan accordingly.)
You should plan to reserve the poaching oil; a small quantity is combined with lime juice and grated ginger for an acidic dressing to drizzle over the tender, sweet alliums. The acidity lends a necessary piquant bite, and a scattering of herbs adds lovely freshness. What’s left of the oil can be stored and refrigerated for up to one month—it is a richly flavored gift that keeps on giving.
- 4 ounces scallions (about 6 scallions)
- 1 pound purple and white spring onions
- 1 garlic head, halved crosswise
- 4 large shallots (about 8 ounces), peeled and quartered lengthwise
- 1 small bunch fresh thyme (about 10 sprigs)
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 1/2 cup melted red palm oil (such as Nutiva)
- Neutral oil, for braising (such as canola or grapeseed oil)
- 2 ounces garlic scapes or green parts of scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon lime zest plus 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 2 limes)
- 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Small fresh mint leaves
- Flaky sea salt
How to Make It
Preheat oven to 300°F. Cut scallions in half crosswise, separating white and green parts. Wrap green parts in a damp paper towel, and chill until ready to use. Cut white parts of scallions into 2-inch pieces, and place in a large Dutch oven. Cut tops off spring onions, leaving a 3-inch stalk. (Halve the onions lengthwise if large.) Place in Dutch Oven with scallions. Add garlic, shallots, thyme, and bay leaves to Dutch oven. Add red palm oil and just enough neutral oil to cover the vegetables.
Braise, uncovered, in preheated oven until vegetables are tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 1 hour and 30 minutes, gently stirring in garlic scapes during last 10 minutes of cooking. Carefully remove Dutch oven from oven, and let onion mixture cool slightly, about 20 minutes.
While vegetables are cooling, stir together lime zest and juice, ginger, honey, and 2 tablespoons of the braising oil in a small bowl. Season with kosher salt.
Remove bay leaves and thyme from onion mixture, and discard. Using a slotted spoon or spider, gently remove cooked onion mixture from oil. Remove garlic cloves from their skins. Strain remaining oil through a fine wire-mesh strainer, and store oil in an airtight container in refrigerator for another use. Arrange onion mixture on plates, and spoon lime vinaigrette over top. Thinly slice green parts of scallions on an angle, and sprinkle over onion mixture. Sprinkle with mint leaves and flaky salt. Confited onion mixture may be stored, submerged in oil, in refrigerator for up to 1 month.