Infusing Oils

Today we’re going to talk about something that sounds very fancy. You’ll impress your friends so much that you may be inclined to write your own minimalist menus to put on their plates with things like:

Organic hanger steak
Frizzled leeks
Garlic sage oil

(More on frizzled leeks in future weeks.)

This week we’re going to learn several ways to infuse your own oils for dressings, flavoring, cooking, etc.

Infusing Oils

There are two methods to infusing oils: heat and time.

First you must determine what type of oil you want to use and what flavor you want to infuse it with.

Let’s start with oils. For an infused oil, I find that cheap is fine since the infusion is going to impart most of the flavor anyhow. Vegetable oil is excellent if you want a blank palette. Olive oil is going to have some fruity notes that will compliment spicier or more herbal infusions. Ultimately, though, choose what you like best, have around, can afford, etc.

Making leek oil using the heat method.

Next you need to determine what you want to infuse your oil with. Think about your favorite flavors to cook with. Do you like herbal notes? Brighter lemony notes? Extreme spice? We can make any of those things happen.

For your first infusion, let’s start with the simplest and most common item to infuse with–garlic.

Heat Method

When working with the heat method, place a saute pan on the oven and warm to medium heat. Then add 1 cup of oil. After the oil heats slightly, add 4-8 cloves of garlic (depending on size of clove and garlic love) and stir the garlic until it starts to brown (but not burn). This should take approximately 8 minutes.

Remove the garlic from the pan (though feel free to use this cooked garlic in future cooking projects, say a hummus?) and strain the oil into a container.

Leftovers from making wild garlic oil.

Suggestions for other items to heat infuse: leek tops, green onion, wild onion/garlic, sage, rosemary, etc. The possibilities are endless. (If you’re unsure about a flavor and want to test it, use less of the item and less oil to try out a small tasting batch.)

Time Method

There are two variations on this method which require a bit time (~20-30 minutes) and others that require a lot of time (4-6 weeks). Let’s start with the quick one.

So it’s salad night, and you need to whip up a quick dressing. No problem! Chop (or, even better, use your garlic press) one or two garlic cloves (as well as a pinch of any chopped herbs or dry spice you’d like to infuse) into a small bowl (ramekin ideally) and cover with olive oil. Let sit for at least 20 minutes; note that the longer something sits, the more flavor will infuse. Now whisk in your vinegar (or lemon/orange/lime juice of choice) until it emulsifies. Add salt and cracked black pepper. Now you’ve got a dressing!

If you’re looking for more complex flavors, maybe it’s time to start your own long-infuse. This is one of my personal favorite things to do when hot peppers are in season at the market. Here you want to think about the flavors you want to bring to your oil.

You can start with something simple. Have a lot of herbs? Add a few cloves of garlic and a spring of basil. Cover with oil. Strain the oil after 4 weeks. Boom! You’ve got garlic-basil oil.

Ready to get complex? Great! So think about flavors that you want to see together. Love cilantro? What does it usually pair with? Yep! Lime! And garlic! And jalapeños! So why not make an oil with all of those things? (Note, when using citrus in oils, cut the fruit into rounds rather than squeezing the juices into the oil.)

Cilantro, serrano, lime oil.

Don’t have fresh herbs? No worries! Dried herbs work just as well. Try bay leaf and peppercorn for a excellent couscous topping.

Again, this will need to sit for at least 4 weeks. You can strain the oil at this point or you can leave it to continue to infuse. Do note, though, that you’ll likely want to remove any leafy herbs from the mix since they can get funky after a month, which can cause your oil to grow mold.

What to Do with Your Infused Oils

Now that you have all these fancy oils, what do you do with them?

  • Salad dressings
  • Roasting vegetables
  • Finishing oils
  • Popcorn flavoring
  • Bean dip flavoring

You can also use it in place of a standard cooking oil to impart more flavor to meats or sauces. Just make sure to strain your oil before using.

Let us know what your favorite flavor combo is for your own infused oils in the comments!

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