It may seem strange, but my favourite Christmas gifts are not necessarily jewels, but rather gifts of food. It’s the small jars of specialty mustards, savoury sauces or varied spice combinations that can make any number of January meals ‘special’.
No. I do not keep these mouth-watering pleasures for ‘a special occasion’. Living in Alberta where -40° can be any winter day is special enough to be greeted with good food.
Unfortunately, this year I was given two items that WILL NOT be part of any of my cooking. The first is a bottle of flavoured canola oil. Thoughtful-Yes. Opportune-Yes. But without a clear processing label, and a name and address of the company that made it, this potential culinary delight WILL NOT be part of any of my cooking. The second is a container to make my own infused oils.
So why would I choose to not to use these items? First, a basic fact: all vegetable oils, including canola, are anaerobic. This means, that the oil, if not heated for a sufficient amount of time, will not allow any of the moisture (water) in any food, herb (including garlic) or spice to escape. And when the moisture remains trapped in the oil, it could be a source of botulism. So without knowing who made the product, nor being able to source how it was made, I simply cannot risk the potential of food poisoning in my home.
So then, why not use the second gift – the container to make my own oils. Because placing garlic, onions, and/or other herbs and spices in a small container that rests inside a second container of canola oil, does not remove the oil’s anaerobic nature. Because the flavourings are not sitting at the bottom of the container, makes NO difference.
So what do I do when I want a flavoured oil? I simply take ½ to 1 cup canola oil. Add the flavours that I am seeking – everything from lavender to make tasty, short-bread look-alike cookies to hot chilies for finishing a lentil or bean soup. I bring the mixture to the boil, then simmer till the oil has the flavour I am looking for. (Be careful when tasting: the oil is very hot and will burn your mouth!) I then allow the mixture to cool. Drain it of any of the infusing ingredients and store it in the refrigerator for a MAXIMUM TIME of three (3) days.
If this is more oil than you will be using during that time, pour the oil into small freezer ice cube making containers to make flavoured oil cubes. Because canola oil has such a low saturated fat, the cubes will gel but will not freeze solid for quite a few days. It’s then really easy to use – one cube at a time. I find this particularly useful for making stir-fries when the oil has been infused with garlic and ginger.