What if you could take your go-to extra virgin olive oil and give it a pop of chipotle? Or a burst of citrus? Here’s Valencia Group’s guide to infusion.

Executive Chef Thomas Gagliardi is the creative culinary mastermind for several Valencia Group kitchens, and he came in just as the wave of infused olive oils that range from Lone Star Court’s smoky chipotle to Hotel Valencia Riverwalk’s sweet, tart blood orange came into being. The unassuming little bottles on each table are perfect for drizzling over salads or mopping up with crusty bread, so it’s little surprise the bottles are in demand in the restaurants and online.

Infusion calls to mind a mad scientist muhaha-ing over steaming beakers, but in reality, anyone with access to olive oil and infusing ingredients can pull off the feat. Gagliardi was kind enough to share how aspiring infusers can do the deed in their home kitchen.

The Beginner’s Guide to Infusing

Pick Quality Oil

Extra virgin olive oil is a must because of its quality. Gagliardi recommends those produced in California or Northern Italy, and tasting before starting for one with a simple, clean flavor that won’t overwhelm the infusion. Personal preference does play a role.

Contrast, Contrast, Contrast

The process is as simple as letting your infusion sit in the oil for a couple of days, then straining. But your choice of infusion ingredient makes all the difference, and Gagliardi advises you to make a handful of different bottles at a time. For example, the subtlety of parsley, sage, and thyme in three separate oils won’t be distinguishable from one another.

Instead, Gagliardi recommends distinct flavors you’ll then use for different dishes, like a citrus, a fresh, recognizable herb like dill, or something smoky like charred wood chips.

Be Creative

One of Gagliardi’s go-to is a charred vanilla bean olive oil, achieved by using a butane torch or grill to char (but not burn to a crisp!) vanilla bean pods, which are then added to the oil. He says the flavor is great when working with seafood and desserts.

Quick Infusions

If you’re in a hurry, you can heat the oil to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit and stir in your infusions, then let the oil steep for an hour or two to pick up the flavor. Be warned: It won’t be as strong and distinct as if you had steeped it cold.

Eat But Don’t Heat

First of all, use this oil for drizzling, not cooking. Heating the oil beyond the 120-degree infusion point can lead to a complete loss of the flavor you just added. Instead, drizzle your oil over everything from pasta to salads, put out a small bowl as a conversation piece and addition to dinners and desserts, or mop it up with a slice of crusty bread.

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