Stalking the Waiter

Riffing on foods, flavors and methods, that would be telling.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Infused Oils - A Treat for the Cook's Soul

When you think about a special meal you've had or a dish you particularly loved, you see the food, remember its flavors. Aromas are a big part of how we perceive flavors, so they are very evocative and can produce strikingly detailed memories of tastes, situations, people, places, events. So, when you cook, why not work on creating those memories with some intent? Is that cheating? Mmm, perhaps, but they're your memories, too.

Years ago I made a batch of olive oil infused with rosemary and lemon. I used an inexpensive but very fragrant olive oil, fresh rosemary and lemon peel. I cooked with it a lot. It's flavor wasn't strong enough to give the food a flavor of herb and citrus, but, boy, when I was cooking, I was in heaven. And, when guests came over, it drew them to the kitchen like a magnet. For someone who thinks of cooking as a social activity, well, that was great.

Most recipes for infused oils tell you to warm everything. This is because heat helps to release the essential oils from the infusing materials, and incorporate them into the medium oil. But, if you heat the oil, you're compromising its freshness and shelf life. You'll need to either keep it refrigerated afterward or use it quickly.

If you're working with olive oil, especially a good fresh, grab you by the throat olive oil, you don't want to do this. Just sitting in a bottle on the shelf is diminishing the tacopherols in the oil, those great antioxidants intrinsic to olive oil. You want to preserve them; so, what can you do?

Use more infusing materials and "bruise" them thoroughly. Don't mash them up, but make sure they're releasing their scent. They should be very strong smelling before you put them into the oil. Citrus peels you just need to twist (be sure not to get any of the bitter, white pith with the peels) so that you see the beads of oil pop out on them.

If you're using hot peppers, you can slit them open first. The heat is in the seeds and interior membranes. If it's garlic, give each clove a good whack with the bottom of a bottle or back of a spatula. One safety note: If you use garlic to infuse oils, keep them refrigerated and remove the cloves after a couple days. There is a danger of botulism if the garlic is left in too long or isn't refrigerated. I would think that reserving the garlic infused oil for applications where it's cooked would be pretty safe, but I'm not a food safety expert. It might be better, if less natural, to buy food safe garlic oil instead.

You can use food safe essential oils to flavor cooking oils without using heat, making this is a good alternative for any number of flavors/scents you might want to add to oils for cooking or seasoning/dipping. Just be sure that you are getting food grade or food safe oils.

Heat is one of the few things that is adequately transferred by infusing oils. The rest of the aromatics are going to be mostly to give the cook and guests that rush of olfactory delight that comes with great aromas - aromagasm? :G: And why not? It's good for your soul.


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