FIG & OLIVE restaurant founder Laurent Halasz grew up in Mougins, in the south of France. His Los Angeles restaurant – where I sampled several dishes, all of them fantastic – is a celebration of cooking with olive oil. It’s an ingredient he is passionate about. During an interview, he used the words pleasure and olive oil together five times during one two-minute span.
Many people enjoy cooking with olive oil, but while talking to Halasz it became clear that not everyone (including this author) is cooking with olive oil correctly.
Here is everything you need to know about olive oil, in the words of FIG & OLIVE founder Laurent Halasz. Please note that he speaks with a French accent, which makes his quotations all the more enjoyable to read.
Why you should eat olive oil
It is healthy and gives you pleasure. It’s a good fat and the body needs fat. You might as well give your body a good fat that gives you pleasure.
Why olive oil is better than butter and cream
It’s easy to do a dish and toss in some butter and cream. Anything tastes good with butter. You can have a very similar satisfaction when you use olive oil. The difference is (olive oil) is not going to cover a mediocre ingredient. Butter and cream? Yes. (Laughs.) You put butter and cream on anything and it tastes good.
How to cook with olive oil
You can’t just throw olive oil in something. It requires you to be more careful with the ingredients. The secret is to select a good ingredient to begin with. If you have a good tomato, with sea salt, olive oil and French basil, you’ll have an amazing experience.
How to select a good olive oil
This is the hard part when you’re in the store. You can’t just read the label, even if you know it’s a nice producer. In the lower end, there is a lot of $10 olive oil for one liter. There are, unfortunately, a lot of bad olive oils.
You have to go $12 to $18, on average, for a half-liter. That’s a premium olive oil. Even there you have to be careful to make sure that it’s a good estate or a good producer. You may have some indication on the label, but it’s trial and error. You have to talk to the gourmet store and then you pick an olive oil.
And you have to trust your own palate.
How can you tell if olive oil is good?
Think of olive oil as a fruit. Olive is a fruit. Is it fresh? Does it produce a juice that has some fruit in the mouth? Or does it produce something that does not have any body by itself? By itself, you should have the pleasure of the juice. It has to be somewhat fruity. When you taste, if it’s bland, if it has no fruit or character to it, you probably know you don’t have a great olive oil.
How long does olive oil stay good?
It actually peaks the first six months. Then within six months to one year it starts to decline. There is a slow oxidation of the olive oil. The more pure the olive oil to begin with, the lower the acidity level, usually the more it will withstand time. The problem is that in the supermarket you have olive oils that are sometimes two years old.
When is olive oil harvested?
In the Mediterranean, usually the early harvest is in October and the late harvest is December. In the southern hemisphere you have harvest in the summer, from May to July. You can have a very fresh olive oil from Australia, Chile. People should also be interested in discovering those olive oils. Ideally you consume it within one year of press.
What is the best way to taste an olive oil?
Put a little in a wine glass, and use your fingers (beneath the glass to warm the oil.) Put your (other) hand on top of the glass. Warm it and smell. The aroma will tell you a lot. If you don’t smell anything interesting, then the oil doesn’t have much to it. You can smell more than taste.
Then you taste it. Sometimes you can taste grass and dry herbs. If it tastes flat or not interesting it’s a bad olive oil.
How should olive oil be stored?
Ideally it should be away from the light and the heat. Room temperature, but not too hot. Dark is the best.