FOOD & DRINK

Olive Oil Infusions

A cook’s secret weapon in kitchen and at parties

Text and Photos by Kelly Huibregtse

This year, let’s make a pact to stop giving fruitcake to our friends and loved ones. Instead, try infusing olive oil for a beautiful and practical gift idea. Infused oils are also great to have on hand for your own holiday cooking. They are easy to make and require only basic kitchen equipment. We asked Jordan Winery Executive Chef Todd Knoll to share tips for infusing olive oil at home, as well as three of his favorite recipes.

“The key is to start with a good extra virgin olive oil that is not too peppery and always use fresh ingredients for the infusion,”

…Knoll says. “It’s fun to play off the seasonality of the fall olive harvest when choosing your ingredients. Freshly milled olive oils are typically bottled every winter when mushroom season begins in Northern California and Meyer lemons and other citrus are at their peak.”

Mushroom-Infused Olive Oil

Dried mushrooms and porcini powder impart a delightfully earthy umami flavor to olive oil. The scent alone is ethereal. Both dried mushrooms and porcini powder can be sourced at specialty and ethnic markets or online. The choice of mushroom determines the oil you use. Flavorful, high-quality extra virgin olive oils like Jordan need more aromatic mushrooms, such as black trumpet and candy cap mushrooms, to balance the oil’s peppery notes. Dried mushroom medleys can be substituted, but the chef recommends using a less intensely flavored oil for the substitution, such as grapeseed or canola. Similarly, a less intense mushroom powder, such as chanterelle, would pair better with a more subtle olive oil.

Controlling temperature is key to maximize flavor extraction without damaging the delicate ingredients, so a kitchen thermometer will be your best friend here,” Knoll says. “Both extra virgin olive oil and mushrooms can be harmed by too much heat.” Bringing the infusion to 200 degrees will also help to extend its shelf life and kill bacteria. Mushroom-infused olive oil pairs well with red wine, especially Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a subtle, earthy note found in classic Bordeaux. Drizzle the oil on your favorite pasta or pizza, or use it as a marinade or garnish for grilled steak. Toss popcorn with a little bit of the oil and a sprinkle of sea salt for an indulgent snack. The chef also loves to grill cipollini onions with skin on and then removes the skins and marinates the onions in a jar of mushroom-infused olive oil for a cabernet-friendly picnic side dish.

INGREDIENTS

1 oz dried black trumpet and candy cap mushrooms
1 Tbsp dried porcini powder*
1 clove garlic, smashed ½ tsp fennel seed
1½ cups Jordan Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil

*Note: If porcini powder is not available, increase dried mushrooms to 1½ oz.

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat all ingredients in a saucepan slowly on low, bringing to a simmer over 5 minutes. Make sure to bring the oil to 200 degrees. Reduce the heat to the barest simmer for 10 minutes. (Garlic should never get darker than golden brown.) Remove from heat, cover and allow to infuse for 1 hour. Strain through a coffee filter or several layers of cheese cloth. Discard solids and store under refrigeration for up to two weeks. Bring completely to room temperature before each use.

Citrus-Infused Olive Oil

Lemon-infused olive oil might be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear citrus, but don’t be limited by convention. Try unique citrus—the chef’s favorites are Kaffir lime or blood orange—but he also suggests experimenting with a combination. Winter coincides with citrus season, meaning supermarkets have a bounty of citrus options around the holidays.

For this infusion, zested citrus peel and oil are maintained at a high temperature to maximize flavor extraction. The mixture is then strained, leaving behind a bright and flavorful oil that is perfect in a homemade vinaigrette dressing or drizzled over fish right before serving. Citrus oil pairs well with crisp white wine, such as Jordan Chardonnay or a fine Burgundy.

INGREDIENTS

2 Meyer lemons, zested on a Microplane (any favorite citrus may be substituted, such as Kaffir lime, blood orange or key lime)
1 one-inch piece lemon grass, crushed
2 cups Jordan Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oi

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat until it reaches 180 degrees. Maintain that temperature by monitoring carefully with a thermometer for 12 minutes. Place the entire saucepan in the ice bath and chill to arrest cooking. Transfer to a non-reactive container, cover and allow to steep at room temperature for 24 hours. Strain through a fine meshed sieve, discarding the solids and reserving the infused oil. For the longest shelf life, store in a sterilized jar under refrigeration for up to three weeks, bringing completely to room temperature before each use.

Herb-Infused Olive Oil

To make this infused oil, fresh herbs and olive oil are blended and then simmered in a sealed plastic bag to extract maximum flavor. Because Jordan Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a peppery kick, the chef recommends using a blend of avocado and olive oil so that the pepper doesn’t overpower the fine herbs. Experiment with a medley of herbs to find your preference. Drizzle this oil over roasted chicken just before serving with a bottle of Jordan Chardonnay. More subtle herbs, such as parsley, basil and chives, complement elegant white wines, while rosemary and thyme are known for highlighting the earthy notes in Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups herbs (Italian parsley, chervil, thyme, chives, tarragon or basil)
1 cup Jordan Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup avocado oil or other mild cold-pressed oil

INSTRUCTIONS

Bring a pot of water to a simmer. In a blender, process all ingredients together until smooth. Scrape the puree into a freezer-sized Ziploc bag. Remove all air from the bag and seal. Remove the pot from the heat and drop the bag into the water. Submerge if necessary. Allow the oil to steep for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath in a separate bowl. Remove the bag from the pot and shock in the ice bath. Strain the puree through a fine meshed sieve. Discard the solids and reserve the herb oil under refrigeration for a longer shelf life. Use within one month.

OLIVE OIL INFUSION TIPS

Storing Infused Oils

To preserve freshness, infused oils should be stored in the fridge in an airtight container. Use oils within four weeks. It’s normal for oils to solidify and turn cloudy when cold. Just bring them to room temperature before using. Keep infused oils away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures.

Packaging Infused Oils

Giving homemade olive oil infusions as gifts scores big points with home cooks. Consider including a few recipes for using the olive oils with your gift, or create gift baskets with wine, a crusty baguette, gourmet cheeses and your infused oils. Small mason jars are inexpensive and perfect for gifting. Wrap the lid with twine and tuck in a sprig of rosemary for a festive look.

Cooking with Infused Oils

Think of an infused oil as the Cadillac of condiments. These aromatic, flavorful oils are best used as the finishing touch in their pure form without additional cooking. “My secret weapon in a simple salad vinaigrette dressing is using an infusion instead of straight extra virgin olive oil,” Knoll says. “The additional pop of flavor brightens the dish and brings out the citrus notes in Jordan Chardonnay.” The same guidelines work for a steak salad where mushroom-infused or rosemary-infused oil is introduced into the dressing to create a beautiful pairing with Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.

Safety and Botulism

Clostridium Botulinum, the bacteria that causes botulism, is present in soil, and therefore also in vegetables, mushrooms and herbs. Because it’s anaerobic, it thrives in an oxygen-free environment like oil. It’s important to heat the infusions adequately to kill the bacteria. Cooking kills the bacteria, but not the spores, so it’s important to follow storage instructions carefully. Fortunately, the risk of botulism is very small. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are about 145 cases annually in the United States. Only 15 percent of those are food-related. Take proper precautions to ensure the safety of your thoughtful gift.