Adding To Your Pantry: Oils
By: Ted Robinson, Private Chef
Infused oils, along with flavored or infused vinegars, make for a simple but perfect addition to any dish. The flavor possibilities and uses for oils are many.
Extra virgin olive oil, a.k.a. EVOO, is well-known and most stores stock several varieties of it from several different makers. Some can be very expensive. When I use an expensive EVOO, I use it sparingly. The expensive varieties will have greater flavor, so a little goes a long way.
I never use straight EVOO to cook with or marinade in. Straight EVOO works great as a drizzle on a plate with a complimentary flavored or infused vinegar and some fresh herbs.
Choosing from the different styles and tastes of EVOO is strictly a matter of personal preference. I’m a fan of spanish EVOO, but that doesn’t mean it is better than others. It’s just my favorite for most of my dishes, for its full-bodied olive flavor.
What oil do I use for cooking and marinating in? I like to use light vegetable oil or a blend of light vegetable oil with EVOO. The ratio I use when blending the two is 90 percent vegetable oil to 10 percent olive oil. This blend is perfect for infused oils. The blended oil will pick up the flavors of the infusion better than straight EVOO.
There are many different oils with different flavors available these days. Some get their flavor from the ingredient they come from, others from infusion. I tend to stay away from commercially produced flavored oils. I prefer to infuse my own oils.
I especially avoid nut oils. First because of the rise in people with severe nut allergies, and second, because I don’t like the taste. One exception is peanut oil. And while I personally never use peanut oil, the home chef will find it one of the best oils to fry in. Peanut oil is great for high heat usage because its smoking point is 450°F. Alternatives to peanut oil are safflower oil (smoking point also 450°F) or canola oil (with a lower smoking point of 435°F). As for the rest of the nut oils, like I said, I stay away from them because I don’t like their taste.
I understand the lure of using walnut oil in a dish that walnuts would taste good in. But use walnuts in the dish, not walnut oil. With a fresh-roasted nut in the dish rather than its oil equivalent, you get better flavor and the bonus of that crunch. Flavored oils from nuts lack the crisp, clean flavor that the nut itself has.
My favorite infused oil that I buy rather than make, is white truffle oil. I haven’t yet been able to infuse my own white truffle oil because I’ve never been able to restrain myself from using up the whole truffle in other dishes. Before I know it, there is no truffle left for infusing and the truffle’s short season has passed. White truffle oil, like the white truffle, is very expensive but a little definitely goes a long way.
Try a dash of white truffle oil on mashed or roasted potatoes, over grilled asparagus or on roasted mushrooms. Again this is an example of the simple little touches that transform an otherwise ordinary meal into a gourmet dinner.
For your own infused oils, experiment with herbs, spices, and fruits that you like. The more of the ingredient you use, the stronger the flavor of your finished oil. Your oil will only be as good as the ingredients you use so look for quality ingredients.
Today’s recipe is for an oil that is easy to infuse. We’ll be using readily available and affordable ingredients. You can use this recipe with any fresh, soft leafy herb you like. Remember, infused oils add that extra dimension of flavor to many, many dishes.