As my creative urges in the kitchen continue to flourish, I find myself constantly researching and pursuing new avenues to wander in the culinary field. With a pantry amply stocked with all manner of herb-infused olive oils, I was recently inspired to create a few of my own special blends, for use with salads, stir-fries, and sautÃ?Â©es.
It is a relatively simple process to make your own flavored olive oils. Following a recipe or using store-bought mixtures is convenient, but sometimes a meal can taste significantly better and wholly satisfying when prepared with your own fresh blends and ingredients. For example, most stir-fries are made with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. But rather than be simple and mundane, why not reach for your own prepared bottle of hot pepper or garlic flavored oil for an extra kick of flavor?
To begin, you need to first determine what type of mixtures you would like. Try to think of what herbs usually work well together, but feel free to get creative. A nice blend of savory herbs such as thyme and rosemary can also benefit from some peppercorns and a bay leaf or two, resulting in a fine, savory blend for roasting meats or beef stir-fries or sautÃ?Â©es.
You will also need to determine whether you will be using fresh herbs or dry herbs. You’ll receive a superior flavor from fresh herbs, but the potential for spoilage is greater after a few months time, while oils mixed with dry herbs can last far longer, but the flavor will be a touch weaker, unless using premium dried herbs.
For storage, you will want to find jars that can be sealed completely. I have found that jars with rubber stoppers are better than metal lids and stoppers, as the metal can corrode over time or affect the taste of the oil.
Now, in order to properly use fresh herbs and get the most intense flavoring, there are a few simple instructions to be followed. A large variety of fresh herbs can be purchased at many supermarkets, or you may be growing your own. Gather together the herbs you will be using. You should have enough to fill roughly 1/4 of the jar or bottle. Make sure to wash them first, then blanch them in boiling water for about 3 minutes. You will start to smell the powerful aromas of fresh herbs floating about the kitchen. Then, strain and put under cold water for a few seconds.
Proceed to chop the herbs if using leafy herbs such as basil or sage. You can can leave thyme and rosemary sprigs whole if you desire for a decorative effect. Pat dry, soaking up as much moisture as you can. Leave the herbs to continue to dry in the sun or overnight if you can. Bacteria cannot grow in the olive oil, but it can grow on any water left on the herbs over time, hence the problem of spoilage and food-borne illness when using fresh herbs. As long as you allow time for your herbs to have completely dried, your mixture will be fine.
Then, simply place the herbs in the jar or bottle, fill with olive oil and seal. Virgin or extra virgin olive oils are considered the best, as they are substantially more flavorful than other olive oils. The oil will begin to absorb the intense flavors rather quickly, but leaving it set for at least a month will continue to produce a more powerful, distinct flavor.
With fresh herbs, it may be more beneficial to store them in the fridge and use the oil within a week to a month. If you would like to store your oil longer, you can first preserve the fresh herbs with a solution of vinegar overnight, then dry, then place in the oil. This will result in having removed all the water and leaving just the essential oils of the herbs. This is recommended for items that naturally contain some water such as garlic or lemon slices. Store the bottles in a cool, dry place.
Working with dried herbs is much simpler, and a larger selection is available to you at your local supermarkets. Simply select your dried herbs, fill the jar or bottle about 1/4 of the way, and top with the oil. You will probably want to give your dried herb blend about a month to reach a strong flavor, but you can store it for about a year.
Special bottles and stoppers can usually be purchased at some stores and online. A set of herbal-infused olive oils can make a wonderful gift!