Q: I have lots of cilantro plants in my garden. How can I make cilantro-flavored olive oil that will last long enough without spoiling? I will lose most of my harvest because we use it perhaps only once a week in our Spanish meals.
A: Making a cilantro oil is easy. The difficulty lies in long-term storage; botulism is a risk with homemade, unprocessed herbal oils.
"Oils may be flavored with herbs if they are made up for fresh use, stored in the refrigerator and used within two to three days," according to the website of the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga. "Fresh herbs must be washed well and dried completely before storing in oil. The very best sanitation and personal hygiene practices must be used."
Jacques Pepin has a recipe for cilantro oil in his 2011 cookbook, Essential Pepin: More than 700 All-Time Favorites From My Life in Food. The famed chef, cookbook author and TV cooking show host, also recommends refrigeration and use within a couple of days.
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Don't despair over your cilantro crop. There's another solution, says Willi Galloway, the Portland-based author of Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover's Guide to Vegetable Gardening.
Galloway suggests pureeing the cilantro with olive oil to form a loose, pestolike paste. Pack the paste into ice-cube trays and freeze. Once the cubes are frozen, remove them from the trays and store in a sealable plastic bag in the freezer. You can then pop a cube into whatever you're cooking or you can defrost first in the microwave, she adds. Store these cilantro cubes in the freezer for up to nine months, Galloway suggests.
Prep: 15 minutes. Makes: 1/2 cup (strained).
1 bunch fresh cilantro with stems, roots trimmed
1/3 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive or peanut oil
Process the cilantro with water and salt in a minichopper or blender until pureed. Transfer the puree to a saucepan; heat to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat.
When the purée has cooled, pour it into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add the oil, cover and shake well. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to develop the flavor.
Use the oil within a few days, refrigerating it between uses.
In Essential Pepin, Jacques Pepin suggests drizzling the oil over poached fish or grilled chicken, whisking it into a vinaigrette or using it to create an herb mayonnaise.