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Basil Oil--an Excersize in Frustration! (...QUESTION...)

Should be easy right, fresh basil & olive oil...

Problem: I love Michael Chiarello's recipes, but pureed basil and olive oil WILL NOT strain through a paper coffee filter (at least within 4 hours). He advises straining through a coffee filter after doing the first strain, which gets rid of most of the large particles. Squeezing the filter (as he instructs) caused the filter to rupture. Consequently, my basil oil is now 'muddy' instead of clear and beautiful, as it should be.

Take 2--I'm going to attempt this again with whole basil leaves.

Question: Is it *necessary* to blanch and dry the leaves first (a hassle)? One recipe suggests a room temperature infusion after blanching/drying. I'd like to skip the blanching/drying and just warm the whole basil leaves in olive oil, then let come to room temperature and strain. I'd appreciate your feedback/thoughts.

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  1. I think you need to think like a jelly maker, maybe buy a jelly bag and frame for straining. You must never squeeze the solids, just let the liquid drip slowly through or your jelly will be cloudy.

    I have made green onion oil by cutting them up fine and simmering over low heat and straining and garlic oil too by the same method. Nothing cut too fine so that straining is simple.

    1. You should use cheeseclothes instead. And don't squeeze. I usually blanch the leaves first, it gets much brighter green, just a few seconds. Squeeze out all the water (after you dunked in a ice bath first) and then blend with evoo. Pour the green oil over a strainger lined with one or two layers of cheesecloths.

      2 Replies
      1. re: OnceUponABite

        Thoughts/Questions: I'm afraid that in squeezing out the water, I'll end up squeezing out much of the basil essence... Also, is the cheesecloth method better than a *fine-meshed* strainer (why)?

        1. re: Funwithfood

          you squeeze before you blend, so you are taking out excess water but not too much of the essence.

          I don't have a fine-meshd strainger :) so I use cheesecloths. I don't think it would be a problem. Coffee filter is too fine for oil to pass through fast enough I think.

      2. I have had great success with masses of basil (including flower heads if from your garden) gently warmed in olive oil and the natrained. Leave basil whole & scoope put with mesh chinese strainer. I do refrigerate. It melts quickly at room temp. I do not even rinse from the garden so as not to add water or dilute flavor.

        4 Replies
        1. re: torty

          Your method is to warmly infused the oil with whole leaves. The OP's method is to just blend together the herb with cold oil, slightly different. Does yours make the resulting oil bright green? I think without the blender, you cannot get the 'green' out of the leaves, no?

          1. re: OnceUponABite

            It is not bright green, just a little greener than the original oil, but is extremely fragrant. Opening the lid even out of fridge releases perfume.

            1. re: torty

              Blanching helps to prevent the basil oxidising over time (even when in oil) hence keeps the 'green' colour bright. Same is true of cooking vegegtables (refreshing them in cold water so they don't gradually get darker/greyer). I blanch basil when making pesto too and it does stay much greener, so looks fresher when you use it, especially in soups etc.

              1. re: ali patts

                Because basil is so thin and delicate (in contrast to vegetables) my guess is that a lot of flavor is lost in the blanching. As an example, in my post on Basil Syrup(noted below), I essentially "blanch" the basil in the simple syrup which produces an *extremely* fragrant result.

                I guess one has to choose between color and flavor in approaching this--I opt for flavor over color. But I can see how some might opt for the brighter color...

        2. I use a small strainer and just let the smaller particulates settle out before putting it in the fridge.

          1. Funwithfood, here is something to consider. If you have blanched the basil and pureed it with olive oil, is it possible you have made an emulsion, resulting in a cloudy rather than clear oil? Try it again without blanching and see what happens.

            To infuse oil with flavor, I do something similar to torty. I heat the olive oil with basil in it, but never let it reach a simmer. The flavor packs a punch and it gets a bit of a green tinge, but fruity olive oil will already be green. The flavor is what I'm looking for, anyway. Good luck>

            2 Replies
            1. re: Non Cognomina

              I didn't blanch--don't really understand the need for it, seems to have more downside than upside to me. Rather, I pureed the basil and oil in a food processor, then strained for large particles (SLUDGE--see below), then *tried* to do a final straining through a coffee filter, which was the frustrating part.

              Re my SLUDGE, glad I saved it--used 4 packed cups of fragrant home grown Genovese basil, and only ended up with a cup of (muddy) Basil Oil for my efforts! The SLUDGE measures about 1 cup. It was topped with olive oil and put into the freezer--guess it could be spooned out as needed for sauces...?

              1. re: Funwithfood

                I think the blanching is encouraged to prevent botulism from developing in herb oils, purees, etc.... Because of this, even after blanching you're not supposed to use herb oils beyond a week.