Our resident chef Mark Hix on that most overlooked of ingredients, olive oil

 
Mark Hix
Potatoes are perfect for oil tasting, soaking the stuff up like butter

How much do you care about oil? I see lots of people with various types in their kitchens but I’m a little dubious about whether they use them for their unique qualities and flavour, or just because they happen to be the first out of the cupboard. Olive oil is a good case in point – almost anyone who cooks will have a bottle next to the cooker.

I was recently sent a bottle of the Belazu second season crushing of early harvest olives from Spain, whose producer Eduard Pons I visited many years ago. He’s mastered an innovative method of freezing a small amount of the November harvest olives and repressing them for a May release oil. The olives are crushed in a traditional way, using a granite millstone, and this stuff is as fruity as you like with a grassy and very lightly peppery flavour.

You would never cook with a great oil like this (olive oil doesn’t deal well with high temperatures), just pour it onto equally fine ingredients to maximise the flavour. But why would you use this particular oil above other less expensive ones? Well, rather like wine, it’s a matter of taste – the more attuned your palate becomes, the more you’ll appreciate it. Try it against other oils with something simple like a tomato or a piece of bread. Next time you throw a dinner party why not have a taste test with your guests and see what they think.

I've been round many a table with olive oil aficionados and snobs and often wondered what the hell they’re talking about. Rather like wine, enthusiasts will bicker about which variety is best: some prefer a bitter oil, some think Italian is best. Invest in a couple of decent bottles and you’ll start to see what I mean.

Potatoes with olive oil

A simply boiled, hot waxy potato is one of the best ingredients to show off the characteristics of a good olive oil, which will soak into the flesh of the potato rather like butter. You can serve this as a starter or side.

What you need

  • 300-400g medium sized waxy potatoes, boiled in their skins
  • 2-3 spring onions, cut in half lengthways and finely chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3-4 tbs Belazu early harvest extra virgin olive oil

While the potatoes are still hot, peel and slice them and arrange on a serving plate. Season and scatter over the spring onions and spoon over the oil.

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