Flavored oils are invaluable ingredients in the kitchen, a simple drizzle can transform a lackluster dish into something truly spectacular. Not all flavored oils are created equal, however, the quality and potency of the final product depends on how they are made. The first distinction to make, when choosing a flavored extra virgin olive oil, is between fused and infused oils.
Fused olive oils are made by crushing whole, fresh olives together with the desired flavor counterpart: perfectly ripe, fresh lemons, oranges, herbs or chili peppers, for example. This is a costly, time-sensitive and time-consuming process. The crushing must happen when both the olives and the flavor component are at peak ripeness. To make a lemon infused oil, for example, the lemons must be perfectly ripe and ready for harvest at the same time as the olives. They are then crushed together in the olive mill, allowing for the essential oils from the citrus peel to blend with the oil from the olives. The result is a bright, fresh, fused citrus olive oil. This choreography requires careful planning and can take many seasons to perfect, but it certainly pays off in flavor.
Infused oils have a subtler taste but can easily be made at home; the flavor is added after the oil is made. Fresh aromatics like basil, garlic, or lemon peel are added to the oil and gently heated to intensify the flavor. Unfortunately, many commercial products use artificial and natural flavorings to camouflage inferior quality oils. If you make your own infused oil, you get to control the quality of the ingredients. Keep reading for some tips from Mark Bittman on making infused oils at home.
“Start with decent extra virgin olive oil and any herbs or aromatics that you like. Garlic or ginger oil, for example, make super last-minute additions to non-sautéed dishes, like mashed potatoes or steamed vegetables. Rosemary oil is fantastic brushed on grilled lamb, chicken or full-flavored fish. Two flavors can work together if they’re complimentary: think ginger-garlic, rosemary-thyme or bay leaf-peppercorn.
Heat the oil with your aromatics, let it bubble a few minutes, cool and use. You can leave the flavorings in the oil (the flavor will continue to get stronger) or strain them out.
Food safety experts recommend that you do not leave flavored oils at room temperature for more than two hours; refrigerate them, and use them within a week.” – Mark Bittman, The New York Times, “Flavored Cooking Oil: Easier Than It Sounds.”
In conclusion, if you’re looking for a flavored oil with the highest quality and brightest flavor, choose a naturally fused extra virgin olive oil. For subtler flavors that you can blend yourself and customize at home, try making your own infused oil, but start with a high quality extra virgin olive oil as your base.