Powder spices on spoons image via Shutterstock
People have been infusing oil with flavors and scents for thousands of years, so you can absolutely do this without mucking it up. Store-bought flavored oils tend to be quite pricey, so the people on your list who love to cook will undoubtedly be delighted at the opportunity to test these out.
What you’ll need:
- A big bottle/vat of extra virgin olive oil
- A large measuring cup with a spout
- Pretty bottles
- Dried herbs and spices as desired
- A funnel
- Measuring spoons
How do I do this?
First and foremost, make sure the bottles, funnel, and spoons are clean.
For a cold-infusion method, add a couple of tablespoons of dried herbs/spices (according to the flavors desired) into the bottle using the funnel so they don’t scatter everywhere. Pour in oil to fill the bottle, cap it, and place it in a dark cupboard to infuse for 3-4 weeks to let the flavors develop. Then strain the contents into that spouted measuring cup, and funnel it back into the bottle.
For warm-infusion, heat your oil in a saucepan on med-high heat and add the same amount (or up to 1/4 cup) of dried flavorings. Turn the heat down and let it simmer for a couple of minutes, then set aside to cool. Strain through a fine metal strainer or cheesecloth, funnel into your bottles, and store in your cupboard.
When using dried herbs and spices, these flavored oils will be good to use for up to a year. These oils should be used as dipping/drizzling oils rather than to cook with—they can taste a bit scorched if heated too much.
Do I have to use dried herbs? What if I want to use fresh ones?
Using fresh ingredients that still have moisture in them can lead to bacteria growth, and no-one wants to poison their friends. If you’re dead-set on using fresh herbs, then your method of oil-flavoring will be a bit different, and you’ll prepare this just a day or two before gifting it.
Heat the oil in a saucepan on medium heat, add the flavoring agents, and then remove from the heat to let it all steep. Once cooled, strain the oil and use your funnel to transfer it to your bottles, then refrigerate them. Tell the recipients to keep them in the fridge, and use them within 10 days. For fresh oils like this, it’s best to make smaller gift bottles so they’ll be used up quickly and nothing goes to waste.
If you do decide to use fresh herbs and spices, you can place sprigs of them into the bottles as decoration: since they’ll be used in a timely fashion, they’re not likely to go rancid or moldy, and the effect of branches of rosemary or tarragon along with whole peppercorns can really be quite beautiful.
What herbs and spices do I use?
Think of the type of food that the recipient likes to cook the most, and use the herbs and spices from that region. Simple flavored oils can be made by just using one herb, or with an intricate mix with several additives for something more complex.
Here are some ideas:
- Spicy pepper oil: assorted dried pepper flakes (jalapeno, habanero, etc.)
- Lemon and garlic
- Tarragon and chive
- Italian spices: oregano, rosemary, thyme, and basil
- Herbes de Provence
- Garlic and fennel
- Basil, red pepper flakes, assorted peppercorns
- Cumin, coriander, pepper flakes
Be creative, be safe, have fun with this, and enjoy sharing the deliciousness of the holiday season with awesome people and fabulous food.
Lead Image: Assortment aromatic olive oil with herbs and spices via Shutterstock