THE GOOD OIL

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Like wine tasting and coffee cupping, successful olive oil tasting requires its own method for getting the best results from the palate. Here are some tips to determine the good from the bad when it comes to olive oils.

The Basics

Extra virgin olive oil can be described by three key characteristics: fruitiness, bitterness and pungency. Fruit characters in olive oil can include grassiness, tomato, tomato vine, melon, rocket and many more. Tasted sharply at the side of the tongue, bitterness describes the sometimes sharp bitter green flavour, present within most olive oils to varying degrees. Pungency is the peppery bite that felt in the back of the throat that can sometimes induce a slight cough.

What you'll need: 

  • Paper and pen - record your findings after each oil tasted

  • Small containers for olive oil - one for each oil you are tasting

  • Water - give your mouth a swish after each oil and swallow so that the back of your throat is refreshed

  • A palate cleanser - we often use apple slices but water crackers are also a good option 

Now, taste...

Take a big sniff of the oil at close range, breathe out through your nose and take note of the fruit characters present through smell.

Then take a sip of your oil and slurp over the tongue. Swish across the palate before swallowing. Again, note the fruit characters, bitterness on the side of the tongue and pungency (peppery bite at the back of the throat).

Record your Findings

Note the fruit accents and level of bitterness and pungency (a scale of 1 to 10 can help with these two characteristics).

If your olive oil smells like putty, tastes like rancid nuts, wet dog (yes, it's possible!), dirty socks or is showing any other unpalatable characteristics - throw it in the bin and buy some new oil. These defects are consistent with oils that are past their used by date, have been processed without necessary care or were harvested too late in the season and they will affect the way your food tastes.

By Mount Zero Olives

 
 

SECRET WEAPONS OF FLAVOUR

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Incorporated judiciously and smartly, artisanal Japanese ingredients introduce a hidden taste (kakushi aji) to foods and thus render them indescribably compelling and satisfying to the palette.

Yuzu Kosho

A salty, citrusy, spicy paste fermented for one month from green yuzu peel, green chile, and salt (green yuzu kosho) or red yuzu peel, red chile, and salt (red yuzu kosho). Use tiny dabs of yuzu kosho to flavour oils (extra virgin olive oil or lightly roasted sesame oil) or homemade mayonnaise-based sauces. Drizzle the oil on kelp-wicked sashimi, poached chicken, salads, or slather the mayonnaise on vegetable-piled sandwiches. 

Hon Mirin

A sweet alcohol fermented from glutinous rice, rice koji, and house-brewed shochu (a Japanese spirit distilled from various ingredients, including sake dregs). A splash of hon mirin to sauces or stews will add complexity in a similar way that adding acid adds balance. Mikawa Mirin is arguably the best mirin in Japan and requires a totally different mind set. Taste it and it you will find yourself wanting to actively find a place for it in your dishes, it is that spectacular.

Rice Vinegar

At its best, it’s fermented from excellent house-made sake, and at its worst from ethyl alcohol with a touch of amazake rice drink. Junmai su (made from white rice sake) is light, bright, and an elegant vinegar for salads, vegetable treatments, or for adding a touch of acid to a dish. Brown rice vinegar (fermented from brown rice) introduces a note of caramel and a gentle softness to dressings. While excellent red wine, champagne, and apple vinegars are lovely, well-made rice vinegar is by far the most food friendly of all vinegars so add it to your arsenal and see the difference.

Hongarabushi

Smoked, fermented, sun-dried skipjack tuna—as opposed to the commonly found smoked-only so-called bonito flakes). Hongarebushi and konbu dashi stock is the basis for many Japanese dishes, but hongarebushi infusions (without konbu) can add complexity to western dishes that use water or poultry stock. Also, used alone, hongarebushi infusions introduce a light backbone of stock without the inherent richness of poultry stock, yet still results in a full-flavoured dish. And generous handfuls of the shavings are brilliant on top of blanched vegetables, pizzas, pasta, …just about everything benefits from a handful of hongarebushi. 

Black Sesame Paste

Black sesame paste is a luscious, powerfully flavourful paste made from best-quality roasted black sesame seeds. Black sesame paste loves cream so is a beautiful addition to cream sauces, ice cream, and baked custards. Wadaman sesame is the best in the world, so this paste should be used for signature dishes that highlight its specialness. Do not attempt to compare to other black sesame pastes as they will come up woefully short.

Miso

Miso is a salty, umami-rich paste made from fermenting soy beans with a koji-inoculated grain and salt. Miso can be used in a variety of ways; adding miso to cream sauces or béchamel gives a gorgeous nuttiness to the dish, a spoonful stirred into meat and wine sauces or long-simmered dishes increases the umami factor in a way that salt cannot, and mashing miso into a mild soft cheese such as ricotta makes a lovely dip for raw vegetables. Stir miso into homemade mayonnaise and serve with blanched vegetables, or make a salad dressing of 2 parts oil, 1 part miso, 1 part rice vinegar. Miso can also be added to chicken stock–based soups to bring up the richness. The applications for miso, used as a hidden taste, are limitless!

Shoyu

Shoyu is an inky black salty seasoning liquid made from fermenting koji-inoculated wheat and soybeans with salt water. A small splash of shoyu in any dish that uses salt adds a salt-plus element that’s results in a more profound flavour profile. Even more than miso, a dash of shoyu can literally be added to every single dish you make to elevate it. The trick is in adjusting the lightness of the hand as it tips in the shoyu: sometimes a dribble or two, sometimes a generous dollop. Shoyu provides an unexpected, yet inspirational flavouring to homemade mayonnaise or used in an Japanese-style salad dressing: 2 parts oil, 1 part shoyu, 1 part rice vinegar. Think of shoyu as a fermented salt – liquid umami in a bottle—truly magical stuff!

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By Nancy Singleton Hachisu

Nancy is one of the most renowned voices in Japanese cuisine and has published three cookbooks with another soon to be released and has appeared on Netflix Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Nancy has been played an integral role in selecting Fino’s Artisan Japanese Ingredients.