Making flavored involves integrating robust flavorful ingredients into “healthy” oils (these “healthy” oils contain low or no saturated fats). Oils commonly used for flavoring are extra-virgin olive oil, safflower oil, canola oil, macadamia oil, and soybean oil (commonly referred to as vegetable oil).
Most meals are now commonly prepared by utilizing alternative homemade or store bought sauces, salsas and condiments. One of the most effective sauce alternatives is the addition of infused oils. The smooth richness of infused oil adds depth and rounds flavors. Many of our favorite ingredients are fat soluble, therefore oils are ideal flavor carriers. Fat is the best vehicle for these flavor notes to adhere to. As well oils give dramatic impact when plating foods. Infused oils add excitement to salads, marinades and sauces. They also make exquisite gifts providing storing directions are included.
The Traditional Method
The traditional method for infusing oils is to place ingredients such as herbs, spices, citrus, nuts, or dried fruits or vegetables into a sterilized clear bottle and add oil. Ingredients can be muddled or mashed first. The bottle is sealed or corked and left to infuse on a sunny windowsill to accelerate the infusion process.
Pure oils are stored at room temperature without concern for spoilage or food born pathogens, this is because, in their unaltered state oils don’t have enough moisture content to support the growth of microorganisms. However when other ingredients are added to the oil, both moisture and microorganisms the ingredients may contain are enough to make infused oils dangerous. This danger is compounded when oils are kept at room temperature. Once infused, oils are best kept refrigerated, for this reason, the traditional method of infusion is not recommended for commercial food service.
To prolong the shelf life of infused oils, the containers and utensils used in preparation should be thoroughly clean. The same precautions should be taken in making infused oil as those utilized in canning or preserving food. Sterilizing with boiling water is advised.
As well oils should be kept sealed until mature or ready for use. The process of oil or fat going rancid is an oxidation process. Sealed containers keep oxygen contact to a minimum. A putrid “off’ odor indicates the development of rancidity. Eating rancid food won’t make you sick but it is unhealthy in the long run. All fats contain chemicals called peroxides and aldehydes that can damage cells and may even encourage cholesterol. It is important to note that rancidity and the presence of botulism toxins are not necessarily related. Toxins may indeed be present without any off-odor. Likewise and off-odor does not indicate the presence of botulism toxin. It may indicate that the oil has been left for long periods of time at room temperature. Discard the oil if you are uncertain of its storage.
Garlic, vegetables and herbs with high moisture content may support the growth of C. Botulinum bacteria. For safety reasons, these infused oils should be refrigerated and used with-in 10 days, therefore making small amounts of oil is recommended to avoid spoilage and consequently waste of product.
Cold Infusion and a quick “Blender/Food Processor Method”
This technique is recommended for delicate herbs, citrus zest, and fresh chili peppers. These ingredients may add moisture to the oil and cause the oil to spoil more rapidly. All that is involved in this preparation is a mixing of oil with the flavoring and then storing it to allow flavors to synthesize. Sometimes these oils can be consumed after a few hours or days particularly when garlic or hot peppers like jalapeños and habaneras are incorporated.
If using a blender or food processor to assimilate flavors, the velocity of the blender accelerates the release essential oils. Combine the oil and the “flavoring” ingredients in the blender and blend on high speed until the product is liquefied. Leafy herbs can be quickly blanched in boiling water and then shocked in cold water to help preserve their colour, which in turn gives the finishing oil a pleasing colour and appearance. Dry the blanched herbs thoroughly with paper towels before adding to the blender. Alternatively you may use a dehydrator to extract the moisture from your herbs. Roots such as ginger should be grated or chopped before blending in order to fully extract their flavors. Fibers from roots should be strained before bottling. Straining other ingredients is optional.
Hot Infusion Method
This method is generally used with ground spices or tougher –leafed herbs such as rosemary and sage. Heating oil makes the finished product more sanitary and less prone to spoilage.
Some spices like cumin, curry, and dried chili peppers are intensified by being heated in the oil and will develop a complex flavor as the oil matures.
To create a hot infusion, combine the oil and the flavor ingredients in a saucepan and heat over a moderate flame, monitor the temperature with a thermometer. In most cases the oil should be between 180 and 200° F to adequately release the essential oils of the flavoring ingredients. The oil should simmer – never boil. This process may take longer if wetter ingredients are used. Higher temperature will give the oil a “cooked” or fried taste and may caramelize or scorch the flavorings. Determine if straining is required then pour into sterilized bottles. Refrigerate oil after it has reached room temperature.
Place oil and chopped vegetable or herb in a 2 cup (500 ml.) glass-measuring cup. Set glass measuring cup on a pie plate and place in a 300° F oven for one hour. At the end of heating the vegetable pieces should become a medium brown colour and become somewhat crisp. If not continue baking until they turn brown. Remove cup to a rack to cool for 30 minutes. Line a small strainer with a coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth. Strain oil into a sterilized glass jar, cover and store in refrigerator at all times, Use within one month. Makes 1 cup (250 ml.)
Sure fired tips for achieving success
- Use good quality oils.
- Use attractive bottles and tightly fitting lids that are free of cracks or chips.
- Sterilize your bottles before using by boiling in a water bath for 15 minutes.
- Work with thoroughly cleaned and dried herbs and fruit and vegetables for maximum safety.
- Never boil oils keep below boiling point if using the heat infusion method.
- When pouring oils over desired flavoring in the sterilized bottles, tightly cap to allow flavors to infuse.
- Store oil in the refrigerator for a couple of days to allow the flavors to intensify. You may choose to strain the oil before using.
How and where to use your flavoured oils
- Used to flavor cooked ingredients like fish, pasta, or stews
- Toppings for end products like garden salads or ratatouille
- Flavor mayonnaises, or hollandaise sauces
- Used to enhance a marinade or used during barbequing/grilling
- Used as a condiment to drizzle on pizza, mashed or roasted potatoes, popcorn or grilled vegetables
- Citrus oils can be used on fish, shellfish or poultry as a finishing condiment
- As a dip for crusty bread – an alternative to butter
- Whisked into yogurt or sour cream to create a dip
- Used to boost flavor to otherwise bland recipes
* Remember that flavored oil is not a preservative. If making flavoured oil without heating treat the finished product as a fresh product. Use within 1 to 2 days and keep refrigerated.
Few foods intensify flavors they way infused oils do. Merely a few drops of your specialty oil will enhance a wide variety of food. Use the oil sparingly to trim the fat out of your diet. Canola oil is an ideal choice for making flavored oil; the mild texture and mellow taste allow a multitude of flavors to shine through.Prepared for “Flavored Vinegar and Oil Workshop” presented at Sage Garden Herbs on October 15, 2011 by Karin Aldinger