What to garnish you dishes with is always on the mind of a chef. When properly done, garnishes can really elevate your presentation whether in a restaurant or if you cooking real good food at home. After all, presentation matters more than ever as we post pictures of meals online, whether it be social media or review websites. One of my favorite ways to bring interest to the appearance of a dish is using a green herb oil. In this post I will show you how to make a green basil oil, but the exact same process can be used for almost any flavor of herb oil.Jump Straight to Green Herb Oil Recipe
Why use Green Herb Oils?
Food garnishes should add something to the flavor of the dish is a positive way. Otherwise, why even bother. Sure we want out food to look amazing, but anything that is on the plate should ultimately make sense.
I have a very basic trouble shooting system that I use for determining a garnish is appropriate. First the garnish needs to provide interest either visually, texturally, or provide contrast of some sort. Then I ask, “does this improve the flavor of the dish?” If yes, I will use it. If the answer is no, then I definitely do not use it. Simple.
Often Chefs want to add green to a dish to show that it is fresh. So chopped herbs are an easy addition to make and universally used. The problem is, often they do not actually make the dish any better. Even worse, they can alter the flavor of the dish in the wrong direction.
Take chives for example: chopped real fine they can bring an element of visual interest to a dish. However, chives also pack a powerful onion flavor, and in a subtle dish they can quickly become overpowering. Whatever beauty the chives did add, all the sudden became a disruptive element.
Then there are micro greens. They have grown popular over the past 20 years for food garnishes, but often they are just tossed on in a last ditch effort to improve appearance. It can almost become comical when the same two or three micro greens are resting upon every dish when you go out to dinner. I fully believe they have their place on menus, just not on every single plate, every single time.
That finally brings us to green herb oil. It brings an element of visual interest. So it passes the first standard for my food garnish criteria. But what I really like about it is that it can introduce the flavor of fresh herbs in a more subtle and less invasive way. If your intention is to showcase the quality of your main ingredients, then green herb oil is a perfect garnish. You can provide supporting flavors rather than completely alter the taste of the dish.
Here are some helpful tips for making green herb oil.
- Always wash your herbs! The best way is to fill a bowl with cold water and place your herbs in it. Agitate the water to shake free any soil or anything else that might be on them.
- You only need to blanch your herbs for 10-15 seconds. Any longer and you risk them browning. So have your ice bath right next to your boiling water to immediately shock them.
- The oil you use for making green herb oil should be cool before you place it in the blender. The act of blending will heat your oil and risk dulling the bright green color you are going after.
- If you are after a deeper green color, and are using herbs like basil, sage, or oregano that are a little lighter in color, add some flatleaf parsley. This might alter the flavor slightly, but a even a small amount will get the color you want for your food garnishes.
Green Basil Oil
- Mixing Bowl
- 1½ Cup Fresh Basil Lightly Packed
- 1 Cup Olive Oil
- Measure Olive Oil and place in the refrigerator to slightly cool. The oil will warm up when it is in the blender from friction. To prevent dulling of color, having cool oil to start with helps.
- Wash your basil by placing in a bowl of cold water and agitating. Remove from bowl and shake off excess water. Separate the leaves from the stems. Gently pack into a measuring cup to determine volume.
- Add basil leaves to a pot of simmering water. Only cook for 10-15 seconds. Remove as soon as you see the color start to darken. Immediately transfer to a bowl filled with ice water. Shocking to cool will preserve the color. Once cooled, remove from ice water and pat dry with paper towels. Remove as much moisture as possible.
- Place basil leaves and olive oil into a blender. Blend on high speed for 1 minute or until a homogenous mix has taken form.
- Line a fine mesh strainer with either a clean tea towel or two layers of paper towel. Place strainer into a mixing bowl. Pour green herb oil through lined strainer. You will need to agitate and then squeeze the towel to extract all of the oil.
- Store in an air-tight-jar refrigerated for up to 5 days or until the color has faded. Use as a food garnish or in salad dressings.
Choosing Ingredients for Green Herb Oil
When making any green herb oil, choosing good fresh herbs is of the utmost importance. The quality of the herbs you use will have a direct effect of the color and flavor of your finished oil. This is not a place where you try to use up any herbs that have started to wilt or brown if you are looking for that vibrant color. Utilize those in marinades or rubs.
If you follow this site you will see that I often make references to growing your own culinary herbs. Starting a culinary herb garden is incredibly easy, you can check out this guide to get started. But, You also get amazing quality and can save a ton of money. The recipe for basil oil in this post calls for a cup and half of fresh basil leaves lightly packed. That would be close to three of the packets you find in the produce section.
The oil you choose for your green herb oil can largely depend on what herbs you are using and what style of cuisine you are pairing it with. I would just recommend that whatever oil you do use is quality and one that will compliment the herb you are working with. Now I admit that is incredibly vague. But here are some examples to get your mind working on flavor combinations.
Italian or Mediterranean Cuisine: Olive oil pairs well with parsley, basil, or oregano.
Latin and Asian Cuisines: a good neutral oil like sunflower, avocado, or almond would go well with cilantro, mint, or Thai basil.
There are many combinations that will work. If you are looking for a great resource on pairing flavors, I recommend The Flavor Bible, this book has been vital to me over my career in developing dishes.
Storing Green Herb Oil
The best place to store your green herb oil is in the refrigerator. I find that storing in glass containers with lids, like these, works best. Alternatively washing and repurposing a glass jar works well. If your oil solidifies in the refrigerator, just place your jar in water to gradually bring up to room temperature.
Your green herb oil will start to loose it’s vibrant color after a few days and should be discarded after a week. Rather than just pouring it out, if you have any low heat sautéing, just use it there.
Equipment needed to make Green Herb Oil
These are items I personally use, any purchases made from these affiliate links support this blog’s content.
- Mesh Strainer
- Mixing Bowls
- Tea Towels or Paper Towels
- Measuring Cups
- Sauce Pot
- Glass Jars for Storing