Making Your Own Flavored Oils

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Photo by Maria Robledo

This is a great method for making small amounts of flavored oils for use at the last minute as embellishments for soups, vegetables, and simple fish dishes. It works best with soft, fresh, fragrant ingredients like tender herbs, garlic, or grated citrus zest.

Extra-virgin olive oil, subtly infused with lemon zest, is one of my favorites. There is no set formula for making these oils. The ratio of flavoring to oil will depend on the intensity of the ingredients you choose. Since they flavor the oil quickly, you can taste and add more flavorings, if you wish. These oils are splendid on many foods -- practically anything you would dress with olive oil.

You can make flavorings from ingredients such as:

    • Fresh herbs (leaves only) such as basil, cilantro, chives, tarragon, thyme, sage, rosemary or savory
    • Thin strips of lemon or orange zest removed with a vegetable peeler
    • Part of a fresh garlic clove (green sprout, if any, removed)

You'll also need kosher salt and extra-virgin olive oil.

Coarsely chop herbs, zest and/or garlic, and place in mortar or an unbreakable bowl with a with a pinch of salt; pound to a coarse mash with a pestle or a rounded rock.

Stir and mash the flavorings with the pestle as you slowly drizzle in the oil. Set aside to infuse one hour before using; if too strong, add more oil to taste.

It is not necessary to strain these quickly-made oils. Serve right out of the mortar bowl, spooning the oil from the flavorings.

Strain out and discard the flavorings; refrigerate the oil for up to two days.

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.
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