For some people, cooking can be such a challenge and a chore. And if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself making the same couple of meals every week. Lets face it, it's easier, there's no memorization or lengthy recipe, and you already know where the ingredients are in the grocery store!
So, since I make the same things all the time, why not knock it up a little? Why not try something a little fun and will add some serious flavor to my hum-drum weekday dinner? As long as it's easy, I'm doing it!! Why not bring in some infused oil to the mix?
Well it is very easy. I came across several online procedures to infuse oil with various fresh herbs. Of course, I chose one of the easiest ways. I also think it is more fun because I'll get to watch it be slowly infused and it will scent up the whole house in the process~! I'm talking about using the crock-pot method to infuse olive oil. Although other methods seemed tempting, the heat method appealed the most to me. If you wish to use the other methods, I will write up a summary of them at the end of my Instructable. :)
When the infusing process is over, I will be using the infused olive oil to make my normal weekday dinner into something much more deliciouso! So keep reading!
Step 1: Infusing: Gather Herbs and Appliances
There's something about crock pots and me that have a mutual understanding! I just love them, they make cooking more fun.
You will be infusing your olive oil in the crock pot using..
- mason jars
- your favorite herbs (I am using basil, oregano, cilantro)
- 1 lemon
- at least 5 cloves garlic
- optional spices (red pepper flakes, black peppercorns)
You are going to have to fill the crock pot half way with water first. Start it up on low. You don't want to wait forever for the water to warm up.
You can simply buy herbs from your local market or like me, start an herb garden. I unfortunately planted mine just days before I made this Instructable, so they are not ready to be hacked at.
Make sure all herbs are washed and dried. This is important because oil and water residue on herbs will not mix nor is it healthy because it can lead to bacteria growth.
Step 2: Infusing: Cut, Peel, Bruise
No, you're not murdering your herbs, you are simply letting the natural flavors come out. Bruising means to simply squish it with your hand, you know, like you would do if you won a fist full of money! Do this with the basil and the oregano or any herb you'd like to add.
The garlic will need to be peeled and smashed, or sliced thin.
The lemon you want to peel the skin off to use. Don't throw out the rest of the lemon, use it for lemonade!! For a fashion statement, I am going to put in a slice as well.
Any spices like peppercorn or red flakes can be left as is.
Once your herbs are hacked and bruised, pour your olive oil in a mason jar or two, and begin to put your herbs in. Distinguish what herbs you want for each jar. I specialized my oil to pair with my dinners I usually make for the week. For example I eat a lot of spaghetti, so I had a jar with oregano, basil, garlic and a tiny bit of lemon. To use for cooking with the meat and dipping my garlic bread in. The other jar is for when I have taco nights or chicken nights. Cilantro, lemon, garlic, red pepper flakes.. anything to make the chicken taste better!
Step 3: "cook"
I say "cook" because in essence you aren't cooking the oil. You want to simply heat it. You don't want it to cook because it will spoil it faster. The key is constant temperature for maximum flavor. The key temperature is about 120 degrees.
You can choose to tightly close your mason jars or like I did, just put the inner lid on. This way I can constantly check the temperature. Just be careful not to get any water in the oil.
Now you have to wait a good 3 hours... making sure the oil does not rise above 130 degrees. If it has gotten high, simply turn off your crock pot for 10-20 min and the turn it on again. I found that I needed to turn my crock pot back on only twice. The rest of the time it pretty much simmered on off. The mason jars really hold in the heat.
Step 4: Label to Make Cooking Easier
I made 2 different infused oils. One for spaghetti night, and one for chicken/taco night. Naturally, the spaghetti oil is mainly filled with herbs that go well with spaghetti; such as oregano, basil, garlic etc. The other jar for taco night contained cilantro, garlic, lemon, red pepper flakes etc.
use a cheesecloth or wire strainer to strain out the oil in a new and cleaned container.
Now, you don't have to strain your herbs. Just keep in mind the shelf life, even being in the fridge not straining life can be less than a week. However, If you strain, you can easily use it for a month while in the fridge. I chose to NOT strain my herbs simply because I know it will add a bit more flavor over time and I know I will be using all the oil fairly quickly. Also, keep in mind storing oil in the fridge will turn the oil harder, but all will be back to normal with a little heat. So no freaking!
Disclaimer: if you notice any form of rotting the next day or any days after, discard your oil! Botulism grows in poorly preserved canned goods.
Step 5: Cook a Dinner to Enhance!
Alright so it's been 3 hours. My oil is infused and smelling AMAZING. Choosing not to strain, I proceed with cooking dinner. My hum drum chicken dinner is about to get an upgrade.
So I'm taking pan seared chicken and rice to---> cilantro lemon jasmine rice and seared chicken. Yummmmm
Start as you would to cook rice in your rice cooker. I'm choosing jasmine rice because it is more flavorful and aromatic. Rice normally takes around 15-20 minutes to cook.
Meanwhile, line a large frying pan with some of the special oil you just infused; about 3-4 tablespoons. I'm choosing the cilantro oil... heat for 1 minute. Then laying out your chicken tenderloins, cook on medium high about 5 minutes on each side or until internal temperature is 184 degrees.
If the chicken is done before the rice. Simply turn it off and wait.
When the rice is complete, take some heaping spoonfuls of the rice into your large frying pan. Stir together with the chicken.
Step 6: Enhance and Enjoy!
Add a good amount more of that delicious cilantro oil to the mixture and also as a garnish. Add any remaining cilantro sprigs to enhance your presentation and flavor. And then that's it! You got a fast, delicious dinner brought an extra step up! YUM! Goodbye boring weekday dinner!
Step 7: Other Methods of Infusing Oil
The method I showed in this Instructable is gentile hot infusion. Taking a long time and not rising above a certain temperature. Now there's another hot method to infuse oil.
- You can simply heat the oil in your frying pan, add the herbs and cook for a few minutes until herbs begin to turn a light brown such as garlic, strain with a cheese cloth into a sterilized jar. Add more uncooked herbs for presentation, cap tightly and refrigerate for up to 1 month. Less if you put herbs in for presentation. This method is fast but also as a result, the oil will not be as potent.
Now here is a cold method
- Simpy pour oil in a mason jar and place whichever herbs you'd like to the oil. Close tightly and sit in the sun. Also making note to remove any signs of water or moisture from the herbs as they will grow bacteria. On a daily basis open the jar and remove any condensation on the inside of the lid with a clean rag or paper towel. Then tip the jar side to side to gently mix the oil. Continue method for 3-4 weeks. Strain with a cheese cloth or wire strainer. This method I think is best for making soaps.
Thanks for reading! If you have any methods yourself please tell in the comments. This is after all a sharing website. :) :)