No matter how well intentioned, the gifts we give are often a little window into our hearts and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While we all try to put ourselves in the recipient’s Jimmy Choo’s, a little bit of what we secretly swoon over usually bleeds over. So what do you give the home cook who seems to have pretty much any
toy gadget and pantry staple needed for a stellar dining experience? How about something seasonal and homemade that can be used anywhere from cooking to just noshing outright? Infused oils and vinegars are a great way to showcase whatever herbs or aromatics you have a hankering for or look irresistible at the market or from your very own little garden and are very versatile in their uses. Since Meyer lemons are still available here in Portlandia and I just made another batch of lemon curd, why not put those flavor-filled peels to use by infusing a kitchen staple and turning it from background to backlit? The oils in the peel are chock full of lemony essence, working well to infuse your fruity olive oil with citrus flavor and since birds of a feather flock together, our friends also appreciate a spicy kick to their food so popping a couple of habaneros into the mix gives you enough heat to wake up your taste buds without making even the most spice averse among us cry for mercy. How about adding some citrusy heat to your spaghetti aglio e olio? Want to make that crusty bread swirled in tangy balsamic vinegar sing a little more with some unctuous lemony spice? Or add even more flavor to your zesty vinaigrette? The possibilities are limitless 🙂
Good things to know:
1) While oil has actually been used as a preservative in the past, the aromatics (like lemon peel, herbs, …) can be a source of bacteria or mold so besides using fresh ingredients make sure to dry off all moisture from your aromatics as the water is where mold or bacteria (botulism!) can live.
2) By heating the peels and peppers in the oil you’re allowing the oils from the peel and peppers mingle and infuse with the olive oil. This isn’t a sterilizing process which is why the olive oil is only brought to just below a simmer. Using fresh, clean, and dry aromatics that are then preserved by the olive oil is the key 🙂 If you don’t want to sub-simmer oil, you can also infuse your olive oil by adding the aromatics to the oil, sealing in a large sterile canning jar, and storing in a cool, dark place like your basement for 2 weeks then filtering the aromatics out with a fine sieve like a chinoise and finally pouring the infused oil into a swing bottle.
2 Meyer lemons
1 habanero pepper (or substitute 3-4 jalapeño or 2 Thai bird’s eye chilies)
32-oz bottle fruity tasting extra virgin olive oil
2 500ml swing bottles, sterilized
Wash and gently scrub the lemons and chilies. Dry thoroughly with a paper towel or clean dish cloth.
Remove the lemon peel in long, continuous spirals, avoiding the bitter pith as much as possible. Longer spirals will make it so that the peel will be less likely to plop out of the bottle when you’re using the finished product. (Another perk of Meyer lemons is what little amount of pith there is is so minuscule that if you do include the pith it won’t add much bitterness. Coincidentally, the lack of cushioning pith is the reason why Meyers don’t ship well.) Thoroughly dry the peel with a paper towel.
Shallowly peel flesh off habaneros along the lengthwise ridges to expose the veins giving you a “skeletal” appearing pepper. This allows the olive oil to flow through the spicy seeds and capsaicin producing placenta but keeps the seeds still attached to the veins and placenta so you won’t have to filter them out later 🙂 Wash your hands right after handling the peppers to keep from spreading spicy pepper oil onto yourself or other
innocent bystanders things.
Add peel, chilies, and olive oil to a large ~3-4 quart saucepan and heat over med-lo to just before it simmers (you’ll see little bubbles forming) ~10 minutes. Discard chilies. Stuff peel equally into bottles (I use chopsticks but a pair of clean tweezers would also work) and fill to the fill line ~2 inches below the opening with olive oil. Seal and invert then place in the refrigerator till the olive oil becomes solid–oil is lighter than water so if any water does accumulate, you want it at the upside-down opening so you can easily pour it out 🙂 Open and pour out any water that has accumulated. Seal and place upright in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks. Once opened the olive oil will last for ~4 weeks if kept in a … wait for it … cool, dark place 🙂