Saturday, 12 August 2017

Quick Infusing Oils and Fats.

NAME: _Spiced / Infused Oils

This is a longish post that only covers the subject in a general way. You can find precise recipes online if you want them, or do as I've done and sacrificed the occasional cup of oil or butter in the name of experimentation... There are several warnings, not because the processes are dangerous, but because sometimes it's better to have things pointed out and explained in advance rather than learning a painful lesson in retrospect...


INGREDIENTS/UTENSILS:
(See NOTES.)
Cooking oil, butter, lard, dripping, etc
Salt / Pepper / Spice(s) of choice

SOME SUGGESTED COMBINATIONS:
(Note: Generally aim for around four - six tablespoons of flavouring per cup of oil, plus a teaspoon of salt if you're adding salt. Quantities mentioned below are for flavouring one cup of oil.)
- Plain Chilli Oil - 2tbsp chilli, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tbsp garlic (optional)
- French Chilli oil - 2tbsp chilli, 2tbsp smoked chilli, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tbsp garlic
- Paprika oil - 3 tbsp paprika, 1 tsp salt
- Spanish paprika oil - 2 tbsp paprika, 2 tbsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tbsp garlic (optional)
- lemon infused oil - 2 - 3 tbsp lemon or lime, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tbsp garlic (optional), 1 tsp turmeric (optional)
- chimichurri style - 2 tbsp parsley powdered, 1 tbsp coriander leaves/roots powdered, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1 tbsp paprika, 1/2 tbsp garlic
- dill oil - 4 tbsp powdered dill, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp lemon (optional)
- sweet butter - 1 tbsp honey, 1 tbsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp clove, 1/2tsp nutmeg infused into butter

You get the idea - there are a lot of flavour combinations and I've only scratched the surface, listed the ones I make most often. You can even use curry spice powder to infuse an oil with if you want, or Five Spice, or pretty much any combination.


METHOD:
Set some water simmering in a large saucepan, put in a canning mat or old tea towel or something to keep the inner bowl from rattling against the bottom of the saucepan, and in a smaller bowl or saucepan, put your infusion oil and the ingredients, then put that in the simmering water.

You don't want water to get into your oil, but you want the water deep enough to heat all the way up the inner vessel. I find that a four cup Pyrex glass jug is heavy enough to sit on the canning mat and not float up, and plenty big enough to hold a cup or two of oil. My preference is to put the jug into the water while it's still empty, give it time to heat up, and then put the oil and herbs into it. I generally try to fix it so the jug is about three quarters submerged but not yet floating.

Wait for the infusion to get as hot as possible. Generally, you can check the temperature of the oil with a dial or electronic probe type thermometer, or just wait for 20 - 30 minutes to be sure. You want to stir the brew a few times, then let your nose tell you when the maximum aroma is present.


Don't be tempted to directly heat the oil over a burner, use a bowl in a water bath. The reason is that if there's ANY moisture in the herbs and spices and the oil surrounding that moisture gets above the boiling point of water, there will be pockets of steam under the oil which will literally explode hot oil all over you and your kitchen. You may think you can catch the temperature before things get to that stage but there's all sorts of reasons you can fail. A water bath prevents the temperature from getting higher than 100C. Seriously. Don't do it... 


Once that time is past, set the inner container aside and allow the flavourings to settle and the oil to cool, this takes around an hour to two hours I've generally found. Then gently decant the oil for use, and even filter the last of it through a coffee drip filter if you like.

Don't throw away the "sediment" and the little bit of fat it's suspended in, see "SERVING" for some suggested uses.

Also, yes - you CAN use green fresh herbs but because they aren't concentrated, you'll have to use four to ten times as much, and even then, because it's being done at low temperatures, it would take hours for the flavours to infuse and the moisture to evaporate and leave you with a clear oil without a serous amount of sludge at the bottom. You're better off to dehydrate these things, which removes the clouding issue, the slow infusion issue, and results in a powder that can be up to ten times as strongly flavoured as the fresh herb. Save fresh herb processing for when you want to freeze fresh herbs and prevent them oxidising.


In preserving fresh herbs you may want to go to a little extra trouble with preparing them, such as a good rinse in water and vinegar, because once you seal those herbs in a solid fat, you're creating an anaerobic environment in which many bacteria will die, but some known bad guys can flourish if you're not ultra-careful. ALWAYS freeze these fat / herb combinations and if you take any out for use, either use it all or throw the remainder out within a sensible timeframe. (Check out "botulism" if you want any further incentive to do good...)


For solid fats, keep the inner container with your infused fat in a bowl of  warm water and let that cool for the hour or two, (this allows the fat stay liquid for longer and gives the solids more time to settle) then let it set and scrape out clear fat until you hit solids.


SERVING:
These infusions are really versatile and useful. I generally make them for dressing a dish, e.g. paprika oil for drizzling over couscous or rice, for example; Dill oil for drizzling over boiled whole potatoes; Lemon oil for poached or baked fish; And so on. I've drizzled curry oil over fattoush, chimichurri oil over steaks and rissoles. The French serve garlic & chilli oil alongside pizza so that you can drizzle your pizza with extra flavour.

But there are as many uses for infused solid fats. We all know and love herb and herb & garlic butter, but imagine being able to spread curry ghee on savoury pancakes, a knob of caraway and cumin lard melting on pork sausages, or mashed potato with dressing of cinnamon & nutmeg infused butter. There are so many places to try these infused oils and fats, and they add a layer of flavour to any meal.

I've used sweet butter for serving with pumpkin scones, garlic chilli butter on savoury pastry crackers, and have brushed pans of cooked potato gnocchi with dill & cumin oil before topping with bread crumbs and / or cheese and baking that as a side dish to a meal.

In most cases I don't recommend using infused fats as the base fat to fry anything in, as the spices in most cases will burn off and taste horrible.

If I'm making garlic prawns, for example, I might use a light wipe of plain oil in the pan, add prawns and garlic and keep tossing until the prawns are done, then allow the pan to cool from sizzling hot to just hot, add garlic butter or oil, toss, garnish, and serve.

ADD COLOUR:
Use paprika to make a lovely red oil for dressings, turmeric for a yellow, chimichurri (without the paprika) for a green colour. Adjust flavours and colours to suit the meal. They can make the visual and flavour difference between a really good meal and a stupefyingly delicious and amazing looking meal.

"SEDIMENT" PASTE:
Don't forget the paste that's left... By filtering most of the oil that the solids are suspended in after decanting, you're left with an oily paste of the sediments that are generally still loaded with flavour. The paste is very nice to use as part of a wet marinade on meats and vegetables, and a range of other uses.

I've used it to coat cubed meat (along with the rest of a good marinade such as i.e. honey or sugar, salt, and vinegar or lemon) before frying and it gives a decent boost to flavours.

A good paprika or chilli paste (for example) can also have other curry spices (turmeric, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, mustard seed, etc) added to it and become a starter base for a curry. Or try oregano, thyme, or sage infused paste plus a bit more oil (or perhaps mixed into tomato paste) to coat vegetables before roasting as a side or main dish.

If you warm the paste, add some oil back to it, then season to taste, you can drizzle it over vegetables or add it to the batter for making small frypan breads (like naan or similar) or add a pat of it to the pan before frying things.

This latter use is not recommended but if you're doing a slow cool fry or confit of something it doesn't burn the flavours. If you read my thoughts about not using the infusions for frying things IN, you may be wondering why I'm okay with adding it to things and then frying those things. The answer is that only the outer layer gets hot when doing this, and due to heat getting conducted away into the food, that layer doesn't get quite as hot.  More importantly - the flavoured fats doesn't stay under intense heat for as long as it would if it was the sole frying agent and things were fried in it.

KEEPING:
I don't recommend keeping any of the oils or pastes for more than a week or two if properly sealed and refrigerated, (but see freezing below) as it's easy enough to make them on demand by dividing the quantities to whatever serving size you need. And frankly, the flavour of fresh made oil beats anything you can get commercially.

FREEZING:
This stuff will freeze, in small tubs or whatever, as mentioned in the METHOD above. I tend to have a small bag or tub full of paprika and dill product (frozen in ice cube trays and then wrapped individually in plastic wrap) another bag with chilli and curry product, and so forth. (That way I save on bags but can tell the cubes apart by colour, as each bag has only two distinctly-coloured varieties.)

FOR PRESERVING HERBS AND SPICES:
If you have fresh herbs, use as much chopped herbs as the oil or fat will hold, allow it to cool, then pour into a foil-lined tub of suitable size and freeze until solid, cut into useful sized cubes, wrap and label them and store in the freezer until needed. Great way to keep stuff like coriander leaves around all year around. Frozen like this in a properly refrigerated environment you should be able to keep these cubes for a year.


In preserving fresh herbs you may want to go to a little extra trouble with preparing them, such as a good rinse in water and vinegar, because once you seal those herbs in a solid fat, you're creating an anaerobic environment in which many bacteria will die, but some known bad guys can flourish if you're not ultra-careful. ALWAYS freeze these fat / herb combinations and if you take any out for use, either use it all or throw the remainder out within a sensible timeframe. (Check out "botulism" if you want any further incentive to do good...)



NOTES:
I saw a lovely post on another cooking group about making infused chilli oil. I realised that besides the slow cold infusion process, there's a much faster process that I use that produces the oil I need (and useful byproducts) in as little as an hour and a half if need be, but more generally two to three hours. (Of which only minutes is spent actually doing anything, the rest is waiting time.)

Many herbs and spices have flavour compounds that are fat-soluble, and oils and fats just love to attract and hang onto them. (There are whole blog pages out there devoted to fat soluble vs water soluble flavours, if you want to research.)

I mainly do this with olive oil, although I can see peanut oil, coconut oil, or any other decent vegetable oil as a carrier for the infusion. There's also nothing to stop you using butter, ghee, lard, dripping, or other solid fats for these recipes, in fact they may be more suitable carriers for the flavours. All of my recipes have usually been made with olive oil, though. Just match your flavours and fats, or try a small taste test before making a larger amount.

The process uses dried and flaked / crushed / powdered herbs and spices, fine ground salt and pepper, a gentle heat extraction, and subsequent decanting plus filtering if desired. There are generally two products, an infused / flavoured oil for use as a dressing or in cooking, and a sediment "paste" of oil and the flavouring.


Don't be tempted to directly heat the oil over a burner, use a bowl in a water bath. The reason is that if there's ANY moisture in the herbs and spices and the oil surrounding that moisture gets above the boiling point of water, there will be pockets of steam under the oil which will literally explode hot oil all over you and your kitchen. You may think you can catch the temperature before things get to that stage but there's all sorts of reasons you can fail. A water bath prevents the temperature from getting higher than 100C. Seriously. Don't do it... 


Suitable herbs spices and so forth include:
chilli, paprika, smoked chilli, smoked paprika, lemon, lime, garlic, onion, cumin, fenugreek, dill, oregano or marjoram, coriander, salt, pepper, and more.

With regard to lemon and lime, I have dehydrated slices of lemon in my pantry, and traditional Middle Eastern "loomi" dried limes, which can be pounded to powder in a mortar, I have dried lemon zest, dried herbs from the garden, plus, of course, the jars of powdered spices you can buy at the store. If you don't have the facilities to dehydrate much of this stuff, it can be found in Middle Eastern, Indian, and Continental food stores.

Salt should plain un-iodised cooking or table salts, pepper fine ground white or black depending on your tastes and what you're trying to achieve, and as free from anti-caking agents as you can get it. Or make your own from salt crystals and flakes using the pestle and mortar. Just try and be sure there won't be additives that will cloud the oil or form food for bacteria.

See the SERVING section for uses for these infusions.


ENJOY!

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