In design, we seek colour harmony and balanced. For wine and food pairing, we want to enhance the dinning experience. Extra Virgin Olive Oils are varied in taste. Matching the taste of an olive oil with the food we serve is both an art, as well as science. But how?
Condiment Role of Olive Oil
First things first. In this article, we are only looking at extra virgin olive oil as a condiment, that is, adding olive oil to a finished food to enhance its flavour.
In other words, we do not heat or blend the olive oil with other ingredients in the preparation of the dish.
A note of caution: Food Pairing is subjective – each individual has his/her own preference. Whichever way, ultimately, we must like the taste of the food after paring the olive oil and the dish.
When olive oil is used as condiment, we can smell and taste its inherent flavours combined with the other flavours of the dish.
A finishing drizzle of extra virgin olive oil can also enhance the texture, taste and aroma of food.
Typically, we only use the very best extra virgin olive oil that gives out freshness and aroma in the dish.
As the olive oil is left unheated, we will reap the full benefits of its flavour and aroma, as well as its health benefits.
The health benefits of extra virgin olive oil come from the phenolic compounds, Oleocanthal, Oleacein, Oleuropein, and Hydroxytyrosol.
These compounds are also major contributors to the flavour of the oil.
Oleocanthal gives us the peppery or burning sensation in the back of the throat, Oleacein is pungent, and Oleuropein is very bitter.
Zuppa di Pesce – A video step-by-step tutorial using extra virgin olive oil as condiment.
In a complex dish, the dish is the main focal point where olive oil is a supporting character.
In a more simple dish, such as pasta, salt-crusted fish, the olive oil becomes the leading character.
A most simplest form of olive oil as condiment is to use it as a bread dip – it tastes so nice and so healthy.
Bread Dipping in Olive Oil
When we use olive oil in bread dip, we need to remember that this olive oil should not be any kind of olive oil – it has to be an extra virgin olive oil, and more importantly, it should be of premium quality to enjoy its aroma and taste.
One quick way to determine the premium quality attribute of an extra virgin olive oil is is to look at its acidity level, which preferably should be less than 0.3%.
The lower the acidity level, the better the aroma and taste, as well as its health benefits.
Olive Oil & Food Pairing 101
Like design and in food-wine pairing, we could do two things to pair olive oil with food: either we go for a complementary taste or contrasting flavour.
Which bread best paired with which olive oil?
Out of the two approaches, complementary pairing seems to be much easier. In a nutshell, we pair a big bold extra virgin olive oil with a full flavoured heavy dish or a light, delicate, aromatic olive oil to undercut the richness of the dish.
Like sweet and sour, sugar and vinegar, when olive oil is used to contrast the flavours of the ingredients, the olive oil is highlighted and its fruitiness or bitterness are brought out to add more richness and complexity to the dish.
In contrasting food pairing, it calls for a higher culinary skill to achieve the harmonious mix in the interaction among ingredients.
Three Different Tastes of Olive Oil
Before we pair olive oil with food, we need to understand the three different level of fruitiness in an olive oil.
- Intense: A full-bodied and strongly-flavoured big oil, it is bitter, has an intense flavour on the front end and peppery after-taste. The taste is often felt like fresh cut grass or green fruit note. This type of olive oil is excellent for pouring over grilled steak, into hearty soups and pasta sauces, and is suited to full-flavoured dishes that are well seasoned.
- Medium: Not too strong nor mild, it is a go-to olive oil perfect for everyday use, such as for cooking and dressing. It has a ripe or green fruity taste where the entry is sweet with moderate bitter and spicy. Ideal for green or fruit salads and roasted vegetables.
- Delicate: It is a mild and ripe fruity olive oil, with little to no bitterness and almost imperceptible spiciness. This delicate oil is better suited to delicate dishes that are lightly seasoned or simply prepared. Perfect for everyday cooking/frying and baking, roast fish or in delicate sauces.
If I had to choose just one ingredient, I’d choose olive oil,” says Cosimo Danese, the Italian head chef at BiCE Ristorante at the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort.
“I couldn’t work without it. … It gives great taste to the food. You don’t need to add anything else to the dish.” – Picking the right olive oil can really elevate your cooking.
Experimentation Approach to Food Pairing
When olive oil is used as a condiment, the olive oil is drizzled to the finished food. The key to food pairing is the right element of interaction between the ingredients and the olive oil.
In food-wine pairing, wine is served side-by-side with food, and the matching takes place in alternating tastes of food and sips of wine.
On the other hand, in olive oil and food pairing, olive oil is poured directly onto the food and what we want to achieve is a combined but harmonious flavour.
In this case, we have to ask the very first question whether we want the flavours interaction to gives rise to a harmonious mix or a contrasting taste?
In other words, do we want one flavour overwhelms the other, or we want the flavours of the ingredients and olive oil balance well?
For western food, we could experiment with warm boiled potatoes, ripe tomatoes, bread, warm cooked white beans, salad greens, seasonal cooked vegetables, grilled steak, poached or grilled chicken, which are the ingredients we will likely use to prepare a western style of dinner.
Simplest Steamed Fish recipe by Mark Bittman, and photo by Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times.
General Rules of Thumb
A general rule of thumb for complementary-based food pairing is to blend two similar ingredients where one is not over-powering the other primary flavour. That is:
- A stronger extra virgin olive oil pairs well with a strong-flavoured food, such as red meat and hearty grains;
- Use a delicate and mild or fruitier extra virgin olive oil on lighter and subtle dishes, such as white fish and crisp vegetables.
Roasted fish with aromatic olive oil. You don’t have to buy an infused olive oil; you can make one on your own at home – the freshness comes from using the premium quality extra virgin olive oil and ingredients – the herbs.
On the other hand, in achieving contrasting flavour:
- Use intense extra virgin olive oil on mild ingredients, such as drizzling over fresh mozzarella;
- Use medium extra virgin olive oil over full flavoured heavy dish, such as drizzling over pecorino cheese.
Specific Food Pairing Ideas
- Delicate and mild extra virgin olive oil is good for everyday cooking/frying, and it also goes very well with fish, mushrooms, seafood pasta, eggs, baking, as well as for tropical salads made with lettuce, tomatoes, mangoes, kiwi, apples, and pineapple.
Mueloliva Clásica is a delicate, mild, and smooth ripe-fruity olive oil with little or no bitter and spicy.
Cosimo Danese, the Italian head chef at BiCE Ristorante at the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort, said, “when dressing a salad, sticks to mild olive oil.”
He further explained, “the mild option is also best to cook with, as heat intensifies the flavour of the oil.”
RECIPE – Tropical salads made with apple and pomegranate.
- Medium fruity extra virgin olive oil is perfect for drizzling over grilled vegetables, for bread dip, over salads, white meat, lamb, veal, fish, seafood pasta, grilled chicken, mushrooms, potatoes, and tropical salads.
Cosimo Danese, the Italian head chef at BiCE Ristorante at the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort, says olive oils with fruity flavours should be used with fish to boost the mild flavour.
When dressing a salad, Danese sticks to mild olive oil. The mild option is also best to cook with, as heat intensifies the flavour of the oil. — in Picking the right olive oil can really elevate your cooking.
- Intensely bold extra virgin olive oil is a good choice for drizzling over soups and stews, seafood, red meats and rich pastas, spicy meals, assertive vegetable, mashed potatoes with garlic, strong cheese, amongst other things. It is also delicious with green salads, oven-roasted tomatoes, steamed asparagus with lemon sauce and for bread dip.
Tuscan-Style Veal Chops and Spring Greens with Oregano Vinaigrette with generous extra virgin olive oil drizzled over the veal chop.
Recipe: Veal Chops with Garlic-Sage Vinaigrette
This recipe is from “Opposites that Attract – Mix Contrasting Flavors and What Do You Get?”
It may wake up your taste buds with a pungent extra virgin olive oil dressing served over herbed veal chops.
For the Vinaigrette:
- 1 large clove garlic, minced;
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar;
- 1/4 cup virgin olive oil;
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves;
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
For the Veal Chops:
- 1/2 cup flour;
- 2 teaspoons ground rosemary;
- 2 teaspoons rubbed sage;
- 4 veal chops, 6 to 8 ounces each;
- 2 tablespoons butter;
- 2 tablespoons olive oil;
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced;
- 8 whole sage leaves, for garnish.
- Whisk all the ingredients for the vinaigrette together and set aside.
- Mix the flour with the rosemary, sage, and salt and pepper.
- Dust the veal chops with this mixture.
- Melt butter with olive oil and garlic in a large skillet. When garlic begins to brown remove it and add the veal chops.
- Brown chops on both sides.
- Turn down the heat, cover and cook chops through, turning two more times, about 10 minutes.
- Transfer to a warm platter.
- Remove all fat from the pan.
- Add vinaigrette and heat until warm.
- Pour around the chops and garnish with whole sage leaves.
Right or Wrong?
There is no right or wrong way of using extra virgin olive oil as condiment. We should use our imagination and creativity to create various mixes of flavours we like.
Ultimately, it is an individual preference. In the end, it is what we like that is what matters.
Strong oils make good bread dippers.
It is a mistake to believing that one extra virgin olive oil fits all style of cooking.
The olive oil expert, Stephanie Lerouge, a regional buyer at Eataly in Dubai, says: “You should have two types of extra virgin olive oil in your kitchen:
- One with a delicate and soft taste to pour on dishes such as fish, salads, and
- Another more fruity and robust one to pour on pasta, meat or raw ingredients.”
Sharing Your Recipes & Experience
We invite you to share your recipes and experience in using extra virgin olive oil as condiment, that is, adding the olive oil to a finished food with a purpose to enhance its flavour, where the key to food pairing is the right element of interaction between the ingredients and the olive oil.
This article is written with reference to the following articles.
- Firenze, C. Pairing Food with Olive Oil plus a handy chart!
- Wikipedia. Wind and Food Matching.
- Gregutt, P. Mastering the Art of Wine and Food Pairings.
- Squadrilli, L. 2011. Cheese and Olive Oil Pairing.