Ever wonder how those fancy restaurants make the brightly-colored oils that are drizzled over soups or dripped onto plates? Well, wonder no more. We’re going to show you how you can make these brightly-colored and highly-flavored oils in your own kitchen. They definitely don’t require the fancy equipment that you’d find in a restaurant kitchen; all they take is a blender and a bit of time.
We were making carrot soup the other night, and we thought that it’d be nice to have something with a contrasting color and flavor swirled over the top of the soup. Even when we eat at home, we often want food that looks nice, in addition to tasting good. And, we happened to remember a bit of the basics of making herb-infused oils from The French Laundry Cookbook, by Thomas Keller. Not really all the details, but the bare-bones of the technique. Here at Scratchin’ Central, that’s often enough.
We used dill for our herb, because that’s what we had on hand, but this basic technique will work with many fresh herbs: basil, sage, thyme, rosemary. All will be good. Here we use canola oil, a light flavorless oil. It doesn’t make sense to use a high-quality olive oil when the flavor of the oil will be overwhelmed by the flavor of the herb.
Procedure in detail:
Blanch and shock. This is the key to retaining the bright green color of the herbs, so it’s really not optional. Bring a large kettle of salted water — it should taste like the ocean — to a boil, and plunge those herbs into it. Ideally, the water should not stop boiling. Boil the herbs until they’re wilted but not soggy and still have their bright green color, about a minute, or even less for delicate herbs like basil. Immediately transfer to a colander and rinse with cold water. Professionals will set up ice water baths into which to plunge the herbs. This shocking with cold water will stop the cooking and set the bright green color. Pat the herbs dry on a clean towel.
Blend. Roughly chop the herbs and place in a blender with the oil. Blend the daylights out of it, about 3 to 5 minutes, until you have a smooth slurry. You do want to make sure that the oil doesn’t heat up with all this blending, so you can always blend a minute, wait 5 minutes, blend, and so on. If the oil heats, it’ll cook the herbs, changing their flavor and color.
Steep. Place the herb slurry in a non-reactive container, preferably glass so it won’t stain, and let steep for several hours, and preferably overnight. This will leach the color and flavor out of the herbs and into the oil.
Drain. Line a funnel with a piece of butter muslin or several layers of cheesecloth, and place in a measuring cup or small jar to hold it upright. Load the slurry into the top and let drain several hours. Do not squeeze or press the herbs trying to get out more oil. You’ll push herb particles through, making your oil cloudy.
That’s it. You can use your oil as a drizzle on cream soups, or a drizzle, or dots, on a plate to show off your culinary skills and make you feel as if you’re eating at the Waldorf-Astoria. While we liked the oil — it had great flavor and color — we doubt that we’d make this more than once or twice a year, as there’s a lot of cleanup (wash the blanching pan, colander, blender, etc.), making it only a three-star technique in the worth it category.