The best kind of Hanukkah gifts are those you can make and your friends eat. In this series, we’ll present four sweet and savory ideas to spice up your holiday gift giving for everyone on your list.
While fried foods grace the Hanukkah table, perhaps no gift is more appropriate than oil. Nice olive oil, with its grassy, fruity undertones, makes an excellent present on its own. But to up the ante and personalize the offering, try your hand at infusing the oil first. The possibilities are endless, the presentation visually appealing, and the taste memorable.
Infusing oil is as simple as putting the flavors you want in a bottle along with some decent olive oil. Just let it hang out together for a week or two and you’ve got yourself a special treat worthy of finishing sauces, amping up salads, and drizzling on bread. It makes a great last minute gift because even if it’s not done infusing, you can instruct the recipient to wait to use it to let the flavors develop.
The key of course is to use good ingredients. While robust olive oils have their place, you want a mellow extra virgin olive oil that will provide a canvas for the flavoring agents. From there you can add fresh or dried herbs, garlic, citrus peel, or spices. More than a recipe, all you need is a little flavor inspiration.
I’m partial to the simplest of infusions. A few sprigs of fresh rosemary, or some crushed garlic. For something a little more complex, I enjoy a few cloves of garlic, a few pieces of lemon peel, and a sprinkle of chili flakes for a little heat. It’s delicious over pasta, and perfect served in a little bowl to go with bread.
The one risk with making infused oils is botulism. While rare, botulism can be extremely harmful. It’s important to wash herbs and dry them thoroughly (not a drop of water!). Furthermore, garlic proves to be more of a risk than other ingredients, so it’s particularly important to be mindful when making garlic-infused oil. For this reason garlic-infused oil has a shorter shelf life and should be refrigerated and used within a week or two. Adding lemon juice or vinegar (1 tablespoon for every cup of oil) is a good idea, as the acid protects against the bacteria.
Another alternative is to heat the oil with the flavoring agents, which makes for a much faster infusion and may kill any harmful bacteria. The down side of this process is that it alters the flavor of the oil and may affect the taste. But if you don’t want to add lemon juice to your garlic oil, then your best bet is to heat the garlic and olive oil together to 200F, then allow to cool fully before putting in a sterilized jar.
Basic Infused Oil Recipe
Extra virgin olive oil
Flavoring agent (ideas below)
1) Using a funnel, transfer oil into any size bottle you like. Just make sure it is very clean and absolutely dry.
2) Add your flavoring ingredient(s). If using fresh herbs, bruise gently first.
3) Allow to sit in a cool, dark place for 1 to 2 weeks. Taste occasionally to see how the flavor is developing.
4) Once it has achieved the taste you want, strain the olive oil and return to the bottle. Discard the other ingredients.
5) Infused olive oil will keep for at least a month and probably more, especially if refrigerated.