Infusing oils at home

September 21, 1994|By Joyce Gemperlein

Can cheapskates be on the cutting edge and make infused oils at home?

Absolutely. With clean glass bottles, pure olive, safflower or canola oil, herbs, dry spices or vegetables, you can make a wine-bottleful for a dollar or two.

Once you master the principles of flavoring oils, you won't need recipes -- just imagination.

Here are some guidelines:

* Always sterilize the bottles into which you will put the oil. Wine bottles are a good choice, but you may want to use smaller containers, such as oil cruets, because the flavor of infused oil, like all oils, deteriorates with age.

* Don't use more expensive, extra-virgin olive oil. Because you are introducing flavors into the oil, you do not need or want the often peppery or perfumey flavor that is intrinsic in fine, first pressings of olives. Don't exclude grapeseed and canola oils, especially for flavors such as ginger, mint and mustard.

In his book, "Marinades" (Crossing Press), Jim Tarantino says he uses grapeseed oil for steeping fresh herbs. When he is heating the oil to make infusions with dried chilies, mushrooms, curry, dried lemon grass or other Asian spices, he prefers light peanut or canola oil.

Pure, good-quality olive oil is a good match for spices and herbs -- rosemary, oregano and the like -- with Mediterranean character.

* After adding flavoring ingredients, keep bottle in a cool, dark place while it is infusing.

* Crumple and bruise herbs such as basil before adding them to the oil.

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There are four main techniques for infusing oil:

* Simply clean herbs (or used dried ones), drop them in a bottle of oil and allow it to sit in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks. This technique generally does not produce an oil with added color.

* Blanch an herb such as basil in boiling water for a second or two, pat dry with paper towels, puree with a bit of oil and then add more oil. After a few days, strain the oil.

* Warm oil in a microwave for a few minutes, in a saucepan over medium heat or in a double boiler. You can add the infusion ingredients while warming the oil, or drop them in after it's warm. This method produces flavorful oil in a day or two.

* Make a paste when using dried spices. As described by James Peterson in his book, "Sauces" (Van Nostrand, Reinhold, $39.95), ground spices (as well as dehydrated foods) must be moistened before being combined with oil.

Then, if using ground spices, make a paste with an equal amount of water before whisking the paste into a quart of oil. Allow to stand for a week before straining.

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