"Poaching in olive oil adds some of its flavor to whatever you're cooking, and makes it more tender and luscious than water ever could. Plus, the oil that's left over after poaching becomes its own special ingredient to use again and again." Anna Stockwell - Epicurious
I participated in my first webinar this morning - an olive oil tasting with Cobram Estate. I'm not quite sure what I expected but it was an eye opener really into the way of the future. Well one of the ways of the future. When we're all allowed to move around again no doubt we shall be able to visit the olive groves and do an 'in person' tasting. In the meantime we can watch a sort of power point presentation in the company of 599 - yes 599 other people from around Australia, and then be guided through a tasting of their four different extra virgin olive oils, plus a rancid oil for comparison. We had been sent our little box of oils, plus some samples of their five different olive leaf teas beforehand. I must admit when I enrolled - at the suggestion of my daughter-in-law - and paid my $10.00 I wondered how on earth they would make money. Now I know. Well done Cobram for instituting this. It was an hour long and really pretty interesting - something about the history of the company, how the oil is made, the tasting, with suggestions for how to use each one, and a health lecture too. You can get those three olive oils in the picture at your local supermarket - and I do indeed buy a can of the purple one now and then - but for their ultra premium brands you will have to buy direct or go to a rather more specialised shop.
They have won many awards, including some international ones, and yes, it was interesting to see the difference in the tastes. The dark green one is very peppery - it made me cough - the light green one is just that - light - and the purple one is somewhere in between. They now have several olive groves but the main one is up on the Murray River at Boundary Bend. It is not a family business, but one started by two friends, who own most of the company but with their staff also owning shares. And, interestingly, in the light of what we have been hearing about the difficulties of harvesting crops in the COVID 19 crisis, they use grey nomads for the task. Also this year they set up a whole lot of caravans on site, to entice people to come and harvest - and they fed them well. So if you are a grey nomad you might like to join in next year. Sounds like hard work though, even if the picking is actually done by machines.
Red Island Olive Oil is also one of their brands - that they don't advertise on their website. This is made from olives from other growers and also from olives that weren't quite good enough for their own Cobram brand. About half the quantity of olives for Red Island comes from Cobram. Not as good quality was the inference. And indeed a Choice survey did give Cobram top spot with Red Island second. The Red Island website does indeed imply that it is a sort of co-operative, and there is no mention of Cobram
But why do I want to talk about poaching in olive oil? Well the dietitian lady, who gave us the health lecture, Dr. Joanna McMillan, said that she loved to poach an egg in olive oil to go with her brussels sprouts (don't ask) for breakfast. I did remember that I had once poached some salmon in olive oil, from my Maggie's Harvest book by Maggie Beer and so I decided to look into what else it was possible to poach.
Maggie's recipe can be found on her website. She uses the word 'sensuous' to describe the taste, and she is sort of right. I do remember that it was very rich, and also - yes - unctuous. Worth trying again some time. We ate it hot, but I'm guessing it could be nice cold as well - well warm at least.
And yes there are actually lots of recipes out there for poaching fish and seafood in olive oil. Here are a couple of tempting looking ones - Olive oil poached shrimp with winter pistou from Bon Appétit and Tuna and tomatoes poached in olive oil, from Epicurious.
But I saw recipes elsewhere for octopus, halibut, trout, squid ...
And then I found an article, well two, strictly speaking, that raved about the virtues of poaching mushrooms in oil, which they do in the Basque country. Mushrooms, it seems are particularly suitable because of their water content.
"The piece of fish or chunk of mushroom coated in oil tastes juicier and richer because of an outer coating of oil — so they actually taste moister than foods cooked in water.” J Kenji López-Alt
"When the mushrooms are done, they have a sweet, pure mushroom flavor, without the interference of caramelization or herbs. The texture is velvety and juicy, rich but not greasy. The most luxurious fungus you ever did see." Marian Bull - The Awl
But don't stop at mushrooms. Garlic and tomatoes were two other vegetables that were lauded with them being able to be stored for those picnics we should all be having - if only the weather would improve. One writer described the tomatoes as "a ball of tomato sauce held together by skin. You can find a recipe for the tomatoes here - Olive oil poached tomatoes.
But Anna Stockwell of Epicurious gives this generalised recipe which is a good one to follow:
"Find a pot that's just wide enough to hold whatever it is you want to poach (so you don't use unnecessary amounts of oil) and then nestle your ingredients in an even layer on the bottom of the pot. Add some aromatics (garlic, herbs, etc.) and then add oil to cover. Heat over medium until you see bubbles form on the surface: this is not actually the oil boiling, but the water beginning to be released from your tomatoes, which means the oil is hot enough. Turn it down as low as you can, and continue to cook until your tomatoes (or mushrooms, or garlic, or fish) is tender and cooked through. It's a forgiving form: just watch and poke and prod now and then and don't let that oil get too hot (if you're monitoring it with a thermometer, make sure it always stays below 200°F). ... then I started poaching with it again, each poaching session taking and giving flavor from and to that jar of olive oil." Anna Stockwell - Epicurious
The leftover oil can also be used for all sorts of other things - vinaigrettes, mayonnaise, soups, sauces, drizzling over things ...
But what about those eggs that started me on all of this? Well I don't think the recipe is on the Cobram website, but you could try Eggs poached in olive oil from The Olive Review. Apparently it's like a fried egg but with a creamier centre.
There were not many recipes for meat but then I found this one - Olive oil confit chicken with cipolline onions, from Bon Appétit.
Confit - of course. All that confit of duck that you find everywhere you go in France. Same thing - only using a different kind of fat. For after all, when it comes down to it poaching in oil, aside from making food smooth, creamy, sensuous and flavourful, is also a method of preserving things.
I guess the trick is not to make it all taste too oily. The people at Cobram seem to think that the lower the quality of olive oil, the oilier it tastes.