How to Infuse Olive Oil the Right Way

I find myself reaching for this ingredient constantly. This is a go-to item for whenever you need to sweat aromatics, grill protein, or build a complex sauce; the execution is simple, the payoff high. This roasted garlic and basil infused oil is at home ‘raw’ in Insalata Caprese or as a base for homemade breads and pastas. I cannot stress enough how the additional layer of flavor will affect the overall quality of the meals prepared thereupon. Don’t believe me? Make it one time and you will find it permanently at home adjacent to your salt and pepper shakers.

Cut a head of garlic in half lengthwise. Rub a small amount of olive oil on the top and bottom and wrap the package in aluminum foil. Place the whole business in a 350F oven for approximately 30 minutes. When you (carefully) open the hot roasted garlic up it should look something like this:

In this picture you will see me cradling the roasted head of garlic in a double thick layer of paper towels. You can certainly wait for the garlic to cool down to prevent burning your finger tips (and a slew of cursing), but it is much easier to pry the roasted cloves from the head when it is pipping hot before all the stickiness solidifies and makes a gooey mess of everything, so pick you poison.

Here you see I have emptied the roasted garlic into a mortar. I like to use my mortar and pestle in this application because it insures complete destruction of the cell walls and ergo the release of all the essential oils in the garlic cloves (think Aioli). A small bowl or glass and a heavy spoon or bread knife would make a good substitute in a pinch.

Here you can see the garlic almost completely ground into a paste. Once the garlic has been sufficiently massacred add it to chopped basil (or rosemary, or thyme, or a combination of whatever pleases you) and the volume of oil you hope to infuse. Bring the sauce pan to a low simmer over medium-low heat. If you look close in the picture you can see just a little bubble action coming to the surface. This is good! If the infusion gets too hot you risk the chance of frying your herbs/spices, which would be perfect if you wanted to, say, garnish some canapĂ©, but bad if you want to get a great infused oil out of it. Try to keep the temperature even and on the stove for at least 30 minutes. The combination of heat and time should be more than sufficient to kill any ‘oogali googalies’ that might have been hiding in your veggies. I currently use a copper Calphalon sauce pan that was purchased specifically for applications where maintaining a constant temperature is of the utmost importance. I can set the stove to low simmer and leave it on for hours without worry. If you are using less-than-stellar cookware this WILL require supervision and flame adjustment up and down – trust me it’ll all be worth it in the end…

Here you see the container I store the oil in after straining the infusion through a cheesecloth lined funnel. Be CAREFUL as the oil is very hot at this point and will burn you instantly on contact.

Now let your new secret ingredient cool off and start thinking about enhancing a tried and true recipe or just pull out a baguette and top liberally. YUM!

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