Ingredients for Infusions
My simple rule in making infused oils and vinegars is to begin with products that have great flavor and aroma. Oils are a bit of a separate question in that, flavor aside, they require additional considerations of heating quality and viscosity.
is my first choice; Mazola corn oil is my second. Both these oils can be heated to a high temperature without burning and both have a light consistency and a neutral taste on the tongue. I avoid using cold-pressed oils for infusions; often they taste too strongly of corn or peanut. Planter’s peanut oil
For the accent oil, I choose
. The toasting and pressing of this particular brand of sesame oil is done with such consistent care that I have never had a burnt-tasting or rancid bottle in all my years of cooking. If your market does not have Kadoya brand, taste the other candidates with a critical tongue and nose. Kadoya sesame oil
(with the green label) and Marukan unseasoned rice vinegar and Heinz distilled white vinegar are my vinegars of choice in making infusions. Mitsukan unseasoned rice vinegar is another good brand. These are not the least expensive, but in my experience they are the most tasty, with a broad range of flavor in addition to the acidic bite. Heinz apple cider vinegar
In the realm of dry and fresh aromatics used for infusing, you must also choose with care:
should be red (indicating sweetness and fire), not brown or purple-black. They should be so pungent that you rear back when you smell them. The bag should contain no more than 25 percent seeds. Dried red chili flakes
should smell profoundly good and herbal. The bag should contain few if any black seeds. Twigs and tiny leaves are part of the bundle, along with a good-size thorn every so often (that should be picked out). Szechwan peppercorns
should be moist and pliable to the touch. They should taste good, with a nice range of flavor in the aftertaste. My favorite brand is Chinese fermented black beans , in a round yellow box. Don’t use beans that are hard and shriveled. Likewise, don’t wash them before use; you want the salt they carry as a contribution to the infusion. Pearl River Bridge
should be rock-hard fresh, with no hint of mold to the eye or the nose. Garlic, ginger, and lemongrass
should be straight-standing and perky, ideally wearing their white beards as a sign of freshness. They should feel dry or pleasantly moist from the grocer’s water pistol, not slimy. Scallions
should be washed well in warm water with an abrasive scrubber and then rinsed squeaky-clean, even if the fruit came from your backyard tree. Orange and lemon zest
Last, but not least,
is the only kind I use unless a recipe specifies otherwise. It comes in a big red and gold box and is a feature of most good restaurant kitchens. No other brand, in my experience, is so consistently mild and clean-tasting. Buy a box from a neighborhood restaurant if you can’t convince your grocer to order it. Diamond kosher salt
For ingredients not covered here specifically—also, in the happy instance that making our infusions starts you creating your own—trust your own good nose and tongue: If you don’t like the smell or the taste of something, then don’t use it.