The Washington Post

Chat Leftovers: DIY basil oil

Welcome to Wednesday, and another fabulous Food section. With the threat of 100-degree temperatures this week, today’s story about refreshing homemade sodas is right on time. Crank up the air conditioning, stay inside and read about local beekeepers and their honey business, and learn about D.C. Central Kitchen’s ambitious program involving regional farmers and area chefs.

Then get ready for the Free Range chat at noon, your weekly tete-a-tete with Food section staffers. Bring your questions, and we’ll answer them — or as many as we can get to in one short hour. Tragically, the unanswered questions are then consigned to digital limbo. All except for one leftover, which I’ll deal with in this space next week. Here’s the sole survivor from last week’s chat

I have an abundance of basil this summer. I plan to use your recipe to freeze basil paste, and I’d also like to make basil oil. Some recipes say basil oil lasts one to two weeks; others say several months. Have you an opinion? A favorite recipe for basil or other herb oil?

Any kind of homemade fresh-herb-infused oil carries the risk of botulism or other bacterial contamination because of the moisture content of the leaves and/or stems. So the safe, responsible approach is to keep those oils on hand for up to one week, certainly no more than two weeks if you’re a risk-taker. And they must be stored in the refrigerator.

The technique I’ve followed comes from Michael Chiarello, a Napa Valley chef, author and TV show host. Using a ratio of 1 cup of oil to 2 cups of packed fresh basil, put both ingredients in a blender and whir to a puree. Empty the mixture into a saucepan or skillet, bring to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes. Then strain it through a fine-mesh strainer. At this point you can either pour your oil into a sterilized container, cap it tightly and refrigerate, or you can first up the attractiveness factor by straining again, this time through coffee filters. I say filters, plural, because the many small flecks of basil that escape the mesh strainer will make this is a veeeeeeeery slow process, and you’ll end up clogging several coffee filters. But the result will be a clearer, greener oil.

However often you strain, remove your finished product from the fridge a half-hour or so before you use it, and it will loosen up as it comes to room temperature.

And that’s really all there is to it. The only other thing you need to do is decide what oil you’ll be using. Some people say you should avoid olive oil because it’s too robust and masks the flavor of the herb, but I’ve had good luck with mild olive oil.

Since you should consume your product within a week or so, it’s a good thing there are so many uses for it. You can put it in vinaigrettes and other salad dressings; drizzle it over tomatoes, potatoes and even popcorn; dip bread in it; brush it on chicken or fish before grilling; and the list goes on and on.

This same technique, by the way, works with other fresh green herbs. So if later in the summer you become overrun with, say, oregano or thyme, you’ll know just what to do.


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