This article will not be about the technique that involves heating up olive oil with herbs or vegetables in it, in a frying pan. We strongly believe that heating up extra virgin olive oil means wasting it. Instead, we’ll be talking about the traditional ways of infusing olive oil, the way people have been doing it since Roman times.
An infused olive oil can be flavourful addition for your salads, a nice finish for roasted vegetables or foil backed fish, or just an interesting dip for your crispy homemade bread. This type of olive oil can add your special touch on the table anytime, even when you’re not in the mood for cooking.
There are many classic combinations of herbs and other ingredients such as garlic and hot peppers, basil, oregano, rosemary, etc. Some infused oils are prepared only for certain dishes. For example:
- For meat and fish: rosemary, bay leaves, cinnamon, garlic, red pepper, wild fennel flower.
- For stewed meat: celery, parsley, onion, sage, juniper berries.
- For grilled meat: myrtle, wild fennel, juniper berries, hot pepper.
But, of course, making it by yourself allows you to experiment with your favourite flavours.
In terms of what oil should you use for a base, our suggestion is to use extra virgin olive oil, because it will maintain its qualities if you don’t overheat it. But if this will be your first try, or if you don’t feel sure enough in the choice of ingredients, go for the less expensive blended olive oil.
Olive oil with dried herbs – that’s the easiest and safest way to prepare infused olive oil. You can keep that oil for a longer period of time (from 3 to 6 months), without any risk. Here is how you can make it:
- Put the dried herbs you’ve chosen into a small dark glass bottle or jar. Make sure you don’t overuse the herbs. Try to maintain the following ratio: 1 tablespoon per 200ml. of olive oil.
- Over low heat warm the extra virgin olive oil. The temperature should not exceed 50 °C.
- Pour the warm olive oil into the bottle. Let the oil cool, and then place the cap or the cork top tightly.
- Keep the olive oil this way for a week, in a cool and dark place. Shake the bottle from time to time.
- After a week strain out the herbs. Of course, you can leave them in the olive oil, but they will continue releasing flavours. If you have dried hot (chilli) peppers in the mix, your infused olive oil will acquire an extreme power just in a matter for one month.
Olive oil infused with fresh ingredients – we believe that’s the better way to make a flavoured olive oil, even if it’s a bit more difficult. The potential problem with the fresh ingredients is the moisture they content, and because of it the risk of development of botulism toxins. There are few different approaches to avoid this:
- Cut the fresh ingredients into small pieces, cover them with plenty of sea salt and leave them for at least 12 hours. Next, clean them from the salt, put in a bowl and cover with white vinegar. Let them soak in the vinegar for few hours, than drain them in a colander until they’re completely dry. This way the smell of the vinegar will almost disappear.
- Covered the ingredients with sea salt for 24 hours. Shake the salt down and put them straight into the bottle. Cover with olive oil and add just one tablespoon of vinegar per every 500 ml. of olive oil. Shake the mixture from time to time.
- You might prefer to experiment with flavours and make smaller quantities, which you can keep in the refrigerator for a month. In this case just combine the olive oil with the fresh ingredients and some lemon juice, wizz it with a blender and leave for day or two. Strain before use it.
Whichever way you choose to prepare fresh ingredients infused olive oil, you need to keep in mind the following:
First, olive oil needs to be heated to about 50 °C (120 F) before poured over the ingredients.
Second, you must not cover the bottle until it’s cooled, in order to avoid condensation, which will spoil the oil.
Third, use dark glass bottles or jars and keep them tightly capped in a dark cool place (such as your cupboard).
Fourth, to avoid intoxications never use infused olive oil that smells bad, because this could mean the oil is contaminated with botulism. Use only quality fresh products and clean them well before using.