There you are standing by the grill with guests all around, fork and knives in hand eyeing the beautifully grilled salmon you are about to plate from the grill. The moment has arrived. With warmed platter on the side, you begin lifting the salmon with a specially purchased wide paddle fish spatula. The spatula refuses to slide under the salmon. You attempt again with no success. You move the spatula to another side with similar results. You begin incorporating a quick back and forth motion under the salmon. Then you have it; broken salmon chunks stuck to the grill or down in the coals. Piece by broken piece, you place the salmon on the now cold platter. In the background, the din of grumbling guests begins to rise. The music has gone from Queen’s “We Are the Champions” to “con onor muore”, the death scene from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.
I am exaggerating here but only by a bit. Nothing is so disheartening than to spend time preparing and cooking a sensational dish only to have half of the food stuck to the grill or to a pan and breaking into pieces. Besides the embarrassment, you then need to determine whether you serve chunky food or quickly prepare an alternate dinner to feed hungry guests.
Your goal is serving visually appealing, fabulously tasting food. The use of oil is a must for everything you place on the grill, broil in the oven and sear or sauté on the cooktop. Oil provides two critical elements. It ensures the food will not stick and provides a base for other ingredients such as rubs, herbs and seasonings. Since you must use oil, why not begin by adding an incredible power flavor tier by using infused oils.
There are a minimum of 8 infused oils in my pantry at any given time and, generally, as many as 15 or 20 depending on available ingredients and usage. Most begin with extra virgin olive oil as the base but roasted sesame seed oil and safflower oil have their place. Sesame seed oil creates a remarkable flavor tier for Asian inspired dishes. Safflower oil, with its neutral taste, is excellent for a dessert vanilla, cinnamon or coffee infused oil.
The flavors are only limited by your imagination. While the majority of my oils are specific to an herb or other ingredient, the one I incorporate into dishes again and again, I affectionately named Simon and Garfunkel. Think about it. It incorporates parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Infused oil will store for up to year so keeping several types on hand allows you to create flavor combinations with different rubs and finishing sauces.
While there are many sources to purchase infused oils, you can create wonderfully flavored oils in your kitchen with minimal effort by utilizing the following:
Slow Cooker with a “warm” setting – it allows the oil to absorb the herb flavor at a low heat level to ensure the stabilization of the oil while still gaining immense flavor
Dried herbs or other dried ingredients – ensure all ingredients are thoroughly dried as any moisture in the oil will cause the oil to quickly turn rancid (Garlic oil is the only one which uses a fresh ingredient and is created in the oven.)
Quality extra virgin olive oil, safflower oil, sesame seed oil, grapeseed oil – other oils do not provide a quality end product
Cooking time of 12 hours – long enough to create wonderful flavors. Any longer will cause the oil to turn bitter.
Coffee filters and a mesh strainer – ensures minimal dried ingredients remain in the oil
Sterilized pint jars and storage jars – make friends with your local barista as the flavored syrup bottles make excellent storage jars but ensure all jars and lids are sterilized and completely free of moisture
Labels and marker – mark lids prior to putting in slow cooker and label storage jars. You think you will remember which jar contains which herb in the cooker but, from experience, it is best to label lids.
No more hungry guest wrapping you in foil and throwing you to the curb because their dinner became a grate disaster. The idea is to work flavor into your food at the base layer regardless of preparation method.
Below is the recipe for creating herb infused oils.
1 c loosely packed dried herbs of choice or a combination of herbs
1 – 1 ½ c quality extra virgin olive oil
Using a wide mouth funnel, fill pint jar with dried herbs.
Fill as many pint jars as will fit in a slow cooker.
Add enough olive oil to reach within 1/4 inch of the jar opening. Stir to distribute the herbs.
Place lids on jars and mark to distinguish the contained herb.
Line slow cooker with kitchen towel to protect jar bottoms from heat.
Place jars in slow cooker. Add enough warm tap water to within 1/2 inch of the bottom of the lid, ensuring no water touches the rim.
Set cooker on "warm" and leave for 12 hours. Turn off cooker and leave jars in water until water has cooled, up to 2 hours. Remove jars and dry outside completely with paper towels. Oil and herbs will have generally separated.
Place a mesh strainer over a bowl or glass measuring cup. Line with a coffee filter. Pour in the oil and herbs from one jar. Let drain completely.
Pour oil in sterilized containers and cap with lid or cork. Label and store in cool, dark location. Does not need to be refrigerated.