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Infused Oils and Spice Combinations

 We said at the outset that the Geezer Gourmet likes prepared condiments and spices.  True, some could be made at home, such as salsas, barbecue sauces, spice combinations and even infused oils and vinegars.  But many products out there are very good and reasonable in price, so why bother?  There is a short list of condiments and spices in my pantry that provide flavors ranging from subtle to remarkable in dishes ranging from veggies, grains and salads to roasts and ribs.  Infused oils and spice combinations are at the top of the list.

Infused Oils:  In culinary speak, infusion is a process of extracting flavors from a product, such as herbs, spices, fruits or tea leaves, by immersing it in a liquid, such as water, oil or vinegar.  I use infused oils quite a lot—often to finish a dish in its final preparation.  If you are tired of butter, try an infused oil.  OK, the calories are about the same, but the olive oil doesn't have the cholesterol.  Two of my former bosses like infused oils. 

Chef Laurie Bell liked a lemon pepper oil made by Olivier, a company in California.  Though pricey, a little goes a long way to brighten up steamed beans, broccoli or blanched asparagus as well as salad dressings.  The infusion is very refined and the lemon pepper taste fades if this oil is used as a cooking oil.  Think of it as a sauce.  A drizzle does it.  I am on my fourth bottle of this stuff.  Its carried only by Williams-Sonoma.  There are other flavors too, but the lemon pepper is a true standout. 

Chef Bonnie Moore likes infused oils made by Boyajian, a company in Massachusetts, and for good reason.  Boyajian oils are priced low enough to use in larger quantities.  More better, these infused oils are very intense and will not fade when heated.  This outfit makes a wide variety of infused olive oils, Asian oils and citric oils.  They even make a lemon-pepper oil.  Sutton Place Gourmet  and Trader Joe's carry a few of the Boyajian oils.  They have a Web site (boyajianinc.com) where you can shop and order direct. 

In all, infused oils can add sophistication to your cooking.  Drizzle some on veggies, salads, pizzas, and pastas; brush it on between the slices of a baguette before warming, or  mix some into the tapenade for the focaccia.  Use it to substitute or augment butter in the preparation of rice dishes and to add that “little something” to your pasta sauce that will delight but confound the steady freeloaders at your table.

Spice Combinations:  They tell this story at L’Academie de Cuisine:  It seems that the White House chef was preparing the menu for a state dinner in honor of the head of government of a country in the Maghreb, the northwest part of Africa (Tunisia, Morocco, or Algeria).  Lamb was the selected entrée and the chef wanted to use spices indigenous to that region.  Curry powder would never do. He had to get some Ras el Hanout, an ancient blend of as many as 20 spices (including aromatics and aphrodisiacs) much prized in the Maghreb. “Where to find it?”  He asked himself.  “Call L’Academie,” he concluded.  Well, as the story goes, the master teacher at L’Academie, Chef Pascal Dionot, said that he would be honored to mix up a fresh batch if someone from the White House would drive out to Gaithersburg to pick it up. A black sedan with a guy in a dark suit arrived shortly thereafter. 

Ras el Hanout is not to be found in the U.S.  The Spice House people in Milwaukee say that if it doesn't include aphrodisiacs (Spanish fly, ash berries and monk's pepper) its not authentic, so they won't make it.  If you want to try, consult Wolfert where a detailed recipe of a Moroccan variety is found along with two less exotic versions. 

All the above is but prelude to the high value to be placed on spice combinations.  You are all familiar with curry powder, Italian seasoning, pickling spice and the like.  There are many, many others.  From the aforementioned Spice House, I have Baharat, an eastern Mediterranean spice used with lamb and couscous.  I'm on my second bag of their Jamaican-Style Jerk Seasoning, which I use as a dry rub on ribs and make into a marinade for chicken, pork and fish.  Also in Wisconsin, and related somehow to the people at the Spice House, is an outfit called Penseys Spices (www.penseys.com).  These folks put out a very informative catalog—so good I save a copy now and then.  From them, I get another rub, called Barbecue of the Americas, top quality peppercorns, vanilla beans and herbes de Provence.  I buy in small quantities and vacuum pack the stuff to retard fading.

By the way, we have of late preferred dry rubbing our ribs and grilling them over a slow fire for about three hours, drizzled with a little olive oil during the last hour.  They are then served with a side of warm barbecue sauce.  Spice and pork taste comes through dry rubbed.  Barbecue sauce is messy and drowns out all but its own taste, which is never all that good.  Try it you'll like it.


 

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