At one of the first restaurants I worked at, we used three kinds of oil. The first was a simple vegetable oil used to fill the deep fryer. The second was a “finishing oil,” a fancy-looking extra-virgin olive oil. It was used sparingly, mostly by the chef, who drizzled a little bit on the plates right before they were brought out to the dining room. The third was “blended oil” that came in a yellow jug. As the name suggested, it was a cheap mix of canola oil and (what seemed to be) a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil. It probably didn’t taste that great when I think about it now, but it was our go-to. We used it for pan-frying, vinaigrettes, aioli, and just about anything else you could think of.
After I quit that job, I never saw that strangely blended oil again, but I started to think about it again a few years ago when, after doing some research, I decided to only stock high-quality extra-virgin olive oil. Unfortunately, I had trouble right away with two things. The first problem was that my favourite brands were expensive—a small bottle could easily add $20 to my grocery bill—and they went out of stock way too quickly.
Strangely, the second problem was how good these oils tasted. I started to notice that the peppery and grassy flavours I liked in these extra-virgin olive oils were too strong for simple vinaigrettes and too strong for delicate sautés. I had too much flavour and not enough flavour at the same time.
At that same moment, the yellow jug with the mixed oil began to make more sense. Therefore, I started tinkering around with homemade hybrid oils at home. When I got my hands on a wonderful tin of extra-virgin olive oil, I first measured out a cup of the oil. Next, I put it in a squeeze bottle with around two cups of decent neutral oil, such as grapeseed or sunflower. I then mixed the two oils together. This way, I could still have some pure stuff in reserve for times when I wanted Big Olive Oil Energy, such as finishing a grilled pork steak or drizzling it over bowls of pureed soup. However, I would also have a great-tasting workhorse oil that I could reach for without worrying that it would take over a dish (or bankrupt me).
The precise proportions of my house blends change depending on the olive oil I’m working with—I tend to dilute particularly potent oils more than milder ones—and the kinds of uses I have in mind for my blended oil. For example, when working with particularly potent olive oil, I’ll dilute it more than I would with a milder oil. Suppose I believe I’m going to use the oil uncooked, as in a vinaigrette or salsa verde, or anyplace else where I want the robust flavour of olive oil without having it overpower the dish. In that case, I opt for a ratio of two parts neutral oil to one part olive oil. Finally, suppose I want the olive oil to have even less of a presence in the dish, such as when I’m roasting or sautéing vegetables. In that case, I’ll use a ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 olive oil to vegetable oil.