Monday, March 26, 2012

Infused Sesame Oil and Sesame Noodle Salad

I love sesame oil. I love it so much that I probably would have been happy for the rest of my life (at least with regard to sesame oil) if I had never run across the concept of infusing it with other flavors. I did run across this concept, however, years ago in the form of Chinese Five Flavor Oil in A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider.

Sesame oil infused with scallion, ginger, chile, and Szechuan peppercorn flavors had to be even better than plain sesame oil didn’t it? Well, I certainly thought so, and I made some of this a long time ago. Unfortunately, I don’t really remember it, nor do I remember why I didn’t make it again right away. That just meant I had to make it now, to see what the heck was the matter with me in my previous cooking life.

A taste of this attempt at Infused Sesame Oil gave me a clue as to why I might not have been all that excited about it before. The infused flavors are subtle, and this recipe is really enhanced by the Szechuan peppercorns, which I’m sure I hadn’t used before. (There was a time that they were virtually impossible to get in the U. S.). I’m always delightfully amazed at the way Szechuan peppercorns zing on my tongue (I recently read that this sensation is caused by hydroxyl-α-sanshool, in case you’re interested), and their use in this infusion lends a small touch of that sensation to the oil. I’m sure I was missing that, all those years ago, without really knowing it.

I stayed with A New Way to Cook for my first application of this tasty oil and made a very simple noodle salad with just a bit of the oil in the dressing. I love the cold slippery noodles and the sesame-soy-vinegar flavor of the dressing, which is meant to replace heavier, more caloric peanut butter or tahini dressings, and does so very nicely. I kept the salad pretty basic (much like the recipe in the book), largely because I usually have the ingredients in this simple version on hand. And perhaps if I know that it can really be this quick and easy, I’ll remember to make it more often. Of course, as the seasons progress, other ingredients could be included, like thinly sliced bell pepper, cucumber, or spicy greens.

You could use plain sesame oil to make the noodle salad if you don’t want to make the infused oil. If you do flavor your oil, however, you’re probably going to have to find some other uses for it. (It makes about ¾ cup.) You could use it wherever you use plain sesame oil, including in salad dressings (such as those in this recipe and this recipe). I also like to drizzle it on fried rice and I’ll even cook with it if I really want that particular flavor in whatever I’m sautéing. With all the flavored oil I now have in the refrigerator, I’m hoping to test it out even more in the next few weeks. Of course, I love the Sesame Noodle Salad so much, I could just make that about a hundred times and still be pretty happy.

Infused Sesame Oil
Adapted from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider

I only had canola oil to use instead of peanut oil. It was fine, but I think peanut oil would be more flavorful.

My oil didn’t turn out very spicy, but I think that’s because my dried chile peppers have been in my cupboard too long.

2 scallions (green onions)
8 slices very clean fresh ginger root (each about the size of a quarter)
½ cup Asian sesame oil
¼ cup peanut or canola oil
1 dried red chile pepper, broken into several pieces
1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns

1. Cut off the roots and about half of the dark green part of the top of the scallions. Cut the ginger slices in quarters.

2. Combine the sesame oil and peanut oil in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat. To test whether the oil is hot enough, drop in a small piece of the chile. If it sizzles in the oil, add the remaining chile. (If not, heat longer and test again.) Heat the chile in the oil only for about 5 seconds.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the scallions, ginger, and Szechuan peppercorns. Cover the pan leaving the lid partially vented. Let stand for at least an hour, but preferably longer, up to 8 hours.

4. Strain out the solid ingredients. Use as you would plain sesame oil, or keep in the refrigerator in a sealed jar for up to 3 months.

Makes about ¾ cup.

Sesame Noodle Salad
Adapted from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider

8 ounces spaghetti (or use Asian noodles, or whatever long noodle you like)
1 tablespoon Infused Sesame Oil (see above) or plain Asian sesame oil
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
½ cup finely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
¼ cup finely chopped roasted peanuts

1. Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until as tender as you like. (I usually cook mine a little more tender than the definition of al dente.) Drain the spaghetti and rinse with cold water until cooled. Drain completely and place in a large bowl.

2. In a small bowl, combine the Infused Sesame Oil, tamari or soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar. Whisk together until well combined.

3. Add the scallions and cilantro to the bowl with the noodles. Pour over the dressing mixture and toss all together to combine ingredients and coat with the dressing. Chill if desired. Sprinkle the peanuts on top of the noodles. If making this salad ahead, wait to add the peanuts until just before serving.

Makes about 4 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Noodles with Cilantro, Green Onions and Peanuts (a warm noodle dish with a different “dressing”; Warm Noodles with Cilantro and Coconut Lime Dressing

Two years ago: Turkey Salad with Sherry Vinegar and Smoked Paprika

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