Confessions from an Oiler

November 15, 2007

Everybody that sits in our kitchen always wonders what’s in all the bottles on the back counter. It’s an old habit left over from my childhood where my Dad would have no less than eight different wine bottles of homemade hot and cold infused oils at the ready on the restaurant’s cook line.

“Mr. L,” my Dad’s professional moniker, drilled several rules into my head. Two big ones were:

  1. Hot pan + cold oil = foods won’t stick and
  2. Ingredients supply a flavor – a good oil enhances it.

Those little morsels of knowledge along with the legendary, Get that out of your mouth you smuck! have stuck with me like dried Irish oatmeal on a wooden floor.

As I recall, green bottles were cold infused oils and clear bottles were hot infused oils. Sloppy grease pencil labeling would tell us of its use: Beef, Lamb, Pork and Seafood. Each assembled by one of our Chefs with the ingredients given to him with precise instructions on the preparation methodology. Naturally, the inevitable would happen where 500 people decided on the same entree so we’d have to quickly make up 5 more gallons of the stuff. Which at times was even more annoying than de-boning 500 chickens. But in the end, a simple way to enhance the flavor of any meal is to accent (or drizzle) with infused oil.

Two types of oil infusions can be created:

Cold Infused Oils
Soft herbs like basil, parsley, mint, cilantro and hard stemmed herbs like thyme, rosemary and sage can all be easily cold fused into oil with little or no mess or fuss.

There are two ways I know to create cold infused oil:

  • 1) using the whole herb stuffed into the bottle or
  • 2) putting a couple handfuls of herbs into a blender and doing the same into a bottle and placing into a cool, dark place.

Hot Infused Oils
Mixed ingredients and some herbs need a bit of heat to bring out their flavors into the oil. Low slow heat forces the flavors to fuse. These can be abit laborious but are well worth the effort. A few drops of mushroom oil in risotto are by far healthier than laying on a slab of butter.

  1. There are a few rules that need to be followed:
  2. Use only fresh herbs, patted dry of all moisture. Dried herbs just don’t work.
  3. Use only clean glass containers. Make sure they have a good seal.
  4. Make a smaller amount at first. Consider how much you’ll use. Shelf life is limited.
  5. Have patience as some infusions from two weeks to two months to mature.
  6. Use good quality oil. You wouldn’t put Walgreen’s brand motor oil in a Mercedes!

Mr. L’s Infused Oil Provencal

Simple, versatile and one of my Dad’s staples. It’s great on any poultry or fowl. It’s equally great as a salad dressing. Try it on fresh greens with some goat cheese or sauteed vegetables or shrimp. My favorite thing to do with it is to saute shrimp, diced fresh tomatoes, handful of cooked pasta and drizzle with this oil. Saute for a couple of minutes and serve.

  • 4 tbs Fresh Thyme (2 large sprigs)
  • 4 tbs Fresh Rosemary (2 large sprigs)
  • 2 tbs Fresh Sage (about 8 leaves)
  • 3 tbs Flat Leaf Parsley
  • 4 whole Garlic Cloves
  • 1 pint Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Lightly pound all the herbs with the back of a large knife, don’t cut, as the goal is to just break the skin to release the flavor.
You can cut the cloves in half if you like to increase the garlic flavor.
Shove them all into a clean glass bottle and top with the olive oil.
Place in a cool dark place (not under refrigeration) for at least TWO weeks. This will keep for a month or two.

Infused Saffron Oil

Want to get rich? Plant five acres of saffron crocus and wait for the phone calls.
Saffron, the spice of royalty, has for decades been the world’s most expensive spice by weight. It’s the spice true gourmets and gourmands consider pure gold. This is excellent as an addition to regular mayonnaise or drizzle of a nice piece of fish. It’s also outstanding as a finishing touch in quinoa, couscous or risotto.

  • ½ cup Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 tbs Lemon zest
  • 2 whole Star Anise
  • 1 tsp Coriander seeds, crushed
  • 2 tbs Thyme, (one good sprig)
  • 1 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1 pinch Saffron Strands (a generous pinch)

Heat a good size saucepan. Add oil and turn off. Add all ingredients EXCEPT saffron. Leave covered in a warm place for 2 hours and strain through cheesecloth or fine strainer. Add the saffron and gently mix well. Cover again and let stand for 2 hours. Store in a clean bottle in your refrigerator. This will keep for up to a month.

Crimini Mushroom & Herb Oil infusion

This hot oil infusion requires some time to prepare. Because this is a blend of herbs and vegetables it’s very versatile. This can be used as a salad dressing, as a bread dip or added to risotto or pasta.

  • 3 lbs Crimini Mushrooms, whole
  • ½ cup Shallots, sliced thin
  • 1 ¼ cup Grapeseed Oil
  • 2 tbs Thyme, fresh (one good sprig should do)
  • 2 tbs Parsley, Flat Leaf
  • ¾ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 225°. Brush off the mushrooms and place them on a baking pan in the oven for approximately two hours or until the mushrooms are almost brittle to the touch. Remove, let cool and break the mushrooms into pieces. Heat a good-sized pan, add a tablespoon of grapeseed oil, add the shallots and cook for 3 minutes. Add the rest of the herbs and dried mushrooms and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Add the remaining grapeseed and olive oil. Leave on very low heat for about 40 to 60 minutes. Pass the oil through a strainer pressing all the ingredients through the strainer with a wooden spoon. Let cool and place in a clean glass bottle. This will keep in your fridge for a month.


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