One of my absolute favorite foods is fresh baked bread dipped in good, quality olive oil. There are few other culinary combinations—to me—that are so deliciously simple. Increasingly, bread and infused dipping oils make appearances in restaurants and at parties. One might think that it is a complicated process to infuse oil, but I assure you that is not the case. Infusing olive oils—and really any oils for that matter—is a simple process that yields a classy and unique hors d'oeuvres or gift.
Below are five pointers to help guide you to your own special variety of infused oil:
1) Be creative. There are so many potential combinations of ingredients with which you can infuse oil. Consider spices and herbs that you enjoy. Chances are those same flavors will yield a infusion that will be pleasing to your palette. However, don't be afraid to try unique ingredients. Garlic, rosemary and peppercorns are common. Consider dried peppers, lemon peel, bay leaves, truffle and other dried herbs also.
2) Use EVOO - extra virgin olive oil. EVOO is a much higher quality olive oil and already possesses a great flavor and scent, in and of itself. The better the oil you choose to use in the infusion process, the better your final product will be.
3) Avoid Water—at all costs. The slightest trace of moisture or water in your ingredient will allow bacteria to grow and will lead to botulism bacterial poisoning, even in a sealed bottle. Particularly for any herbs that you use— especially if it is whole sprigs of those herbs—ensure that those ingredients are thoroughly and completely dried and moisture free. This might require placing herbs in a low-heat oven to remove any excess moisture.
4) Be Choosy. Choose a bottle that can be tightly sealed. This will minimize any external influencing factors that could affect the chemical process of infusion. IKEA sells some great bottles—pictured in the photos—that pressure seal and are inexpensive. Before you fill the bottle with the ingredients and oil, be sure that the bottle is well and thoroughly cleaned.
5) How to. Once you choose your ingredients, place them into the bottle. Pour the olive oil into the bottle and over the ingredients. Seal the bottle and allow the ingredients one to three weeks to fully infuse the oil. Once those weeks have passed, strain the oil from the ingredients into another bottle. Store the infused oil in cool, dark place and use when the occasion calls for it. But most of all, enjoy the infused flavor!
Part of the joy of culinary adventures is being unafraid to experiment and try things. Food and cooking should inspire feelings, emotions and conversation. Infusing oil is a perfect opportunity to be creative. As always, live deeply and happy eating my friends.