Olive oil on its own is a wonderful ingredient that can elevate any dish whether you’re using it to sauté or as an ingredient in a salad dressing.
But you can bump up the flavor profiles of dishes simply by learning how to infuse olive oil with fresh herbs and other ingredients.
It’s All in the Prep
First, choose the highest quality olive oil you can afford. No need to go broke trying to make this happen but make sure that whatever oil you choose is an oil you would happily cook with.
It’s the same principle when you’re choosing a wine to cook with. Make it one you would drink or a cheap wine – one that’s closer to vinegar — could wreck your dish.
Whatever additions you plan to use … rosemary, basil, chili peppers, lemon … make sure to wash and thoroughly dry those ingredients before placing them in the oil.
Because, while olive oil cannot be a home for bacteria, the water on the ingredients you plan to infuse the oil with can turn into a nasty petri dish if not properly prepped.
The next critical part of the prep is the vessel. You will want a container that seals well. Canning jars work fine but look for bottles with rubber stoppers if you want a more elegant look or you plan to give the infused oil away as a gift.
If you want to infuse with fresh herbs, make sure to bruise them slightly before putting them in the container to release more essential oils and give a greater depth of flavor. Bruising is simple: Take the back of a pan and press down on the herbs. This will give them a light crush and release those oils.
Want to have lemon infused oil? Great. Get a lemon that is easy to squeeze – you don’t want it to be so soft you can wring it out but soft enough to squeeze comfortably. Slice it thinly and place it in the container.
We love to use spice infused oil. Toast the spices in a dry sauté pan on low just until you can smell them and then crush them with a mortar and pestle or just the back of a pan. This is the same idea as bruising the fresh herbs.
Cover the ingredients with the olive oil, seal it and let it sit in a cool dark place for one to two weeks, making sure to check the flavor every so often. Once you like the taste, strain out the ingredients and re-bottle the infused oil.
Make sure you check for spoilage due to the oil going rancid. Olive oil will generally stay fresh for about a month especially if it’s refrigerated. If using garlic as an ingredient, botulism is a possibility. As soon as you notice any signs that your oil has gone rancid, dump it all.
Using fresh herbs, toasted spices or citrus to infuse your olive oil will elevate the richness of your flavor profiles and make any dish special.
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