It took me several weeks to open a bottle of lemon olive oil someone gave me as a gift. I knew once I screwed open the top, I’d end up pouring it compulsively on everything.
Vying for attention next to the regular olive oils, it lured me with the promise of containing two of my favorite ingredients, olives and lemons, pressed together into a golden oil.
And at upward of $35 for a rather small bottle, it would become yet another expensive staple in my already pricey pantry. (I’m looking at you, aged balsamic.)
It was a bowl of escarole, green and succulent, that made me relent. A slick of lemon olive oil, along with some grated garlic and a pinch of chili flakes, was exactly what it was begging for. The combination of the greens’ snappy bite and the oil’s fragrant tang was bright and deep.
What makes lemon olive oil taste so intense is that, unlike my workaday salad dressing of lemon juice and olive oil, it doesn’t display the sharpness of citrus juice. Instead, it’s all about the heady oil from the lemon zest along with olive oil. And while it does contain some acidity, it’s a lot more subtle.
As predicted, once I opened it, I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.
Luckily, lemon olive oil turns out to be very easy and economical to make at home. While it may not be quite as nuanced as the cold-pressed stuff in the bottle, it’s still richly citrusy and perfumed, and a jar of it will last a month. It’s fantastic on salads, pastas, fish and my current obsession, avocado-anchovy toast.
Here, I pair the oil with mackerel, one of the most underrated fish I know. Pale-fleshed and much more delicate than people think, it has more character than, say, your average ultra-mild white fish, like flounder. But it’s a lot gentler and less fatty than everyone’s beloved salmon — and more sustainable.
The tender fish, roasted along with olives, basil and cherry tomatoes, makes a zippy dish perfect for any given weeknight — whether you’re cracking open a bottle of store-bought lemon olive oil, or making your own.
MACKEREL WITH LEMON OLIVE OIL AND TOMATOES
- 6 to 8 large basil leaves, plus more for garnish
- 1-1/2 pounds mackerel fillets (sold in Asian markets as saba; or substitute opelu)
- Fine sea salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon olive oil (recipe follows), or more as needed
- 3/4 cup olives, mix of green and black, pitted and halved, or chopped
- 1 cup halved or quartered cherry tomatoes
- 1 lemon, cut in wedges, for garnish
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place basil leaves on a rimmed baking dish and arrange fish on top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then drizzle with lemon oil. Top with olives. Scatter tomatoes around pan. Roast until fish is just cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes for thin fillets; up to 12 minutes for thick.
Serve fish drizzled with more lemon oil, garnished with lemon wedges and torn basil leaves. Serves 4.
LEMON OLIVE OIL
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm oil and zest until the first tiny bubble appears on the side of the pan. Immediately turn off heat. Let infuse for at least 20 minutes (preferably an hour); you do not have to strain it.
- Oil can be made up to a month in advance. Store in sealed jar at room temperature.
Nutritional information unavailable.
AND TO DRINK …
An oily, assertive fish like mackerel needs to be paired with a sharp, assertive wine. The recipe adds acidity to the fish with its element of lemon, so seek out whites with lively acidity, too.
Sauvignon blancs from the Loire would be delicious. So would any number of Italian whites, such as Etna Bianco, vermentino from Liguria or fiano from Campania.
You could also try a dry German riesling or a leaner Austrian one. Gruner veltliner may work, too.
Experimentalists could try a fino or amontillado sherry, fortified wines that go against all I have said about acidity, but will pair surprisingly well.
— Eric Asimov, New York Times