Time to dust off that five-year-old bottle of sherry and start clearing out the oil and vinegar cupboard with these innovative techniques.
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Bottles of oil and vinegar
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Cheese, butter, and salt (oh yeah, and more cheese) seem like the few ingredients a dish couldn't survive without. But to chef Misti Norris, of the Dallas restaurant Petra and the Beast, oil and vinegar are the unsung heroes of healthy cooking — and can be easy (and delicious) replacements for those staples. “They bring out so many flavors that you wouldn’t otherwise taste right away,” she says. Here, she shares her favorite techniques for tapping into oil and vinegar's powers.

How to Use Oil

You need only two types of oil to make a delicious meal, says Norris. First: a neutral-tasting oil with a high smoke point, which conducts heat and lets the other flavors in a dish shine through. Norris likes grapeseed oil (Buy It, $10, amazon.com), which she uses for roasting, searing meats, and whisking into salad dressing. Other options: avocado oil, almond oil, corn oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil.

Then, add a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil (Buy It, $4, amazon.com) to intensify finished dishes, adding body plus fruity and peppery notes. Try it with pastas, soups, and even desserts. “Citrus and chocolate are great drizzled with olive oil, as are raw fruits like peaches,” says Norris.

Fun fact: You can also poach food in oil. It bathes it in flavor and makes it tender. Use leftover oil for future dishes, just keep it refrigerated for up to a week.

Or, make a homemade flavored oil, which adds a light essence to a dish without overpowering it, says Norris. Start with the easy variations here.

  • Turmeric Oil: In a canning or ball jar, com­bine 1 1/2 cup neutral oil and 2 tablespoons turmeric. Place in a pot of simmering water for 2 hours to let the tur­meric slowly infuse into the oil. Remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature.
  • Toasted Garlic and Herb Oil: Toast preserved chiles, garlic, and a dried or fresh herb of your choice in 1/2 cup neu­tral oil until they become floral and aromatic. Remove skillet from heat, and let cool to room temperature.
  • Crispy Chile Oil: Toast a few large pinches of chile flakes in 1/2 cup neutral oil until they turn light golden. Remove skillet from heat, and add finely grated or minced garlic and a pinch of sugar (Norris prefers palm sugar).

How to Use Vinegar

1. Add a Touch of Sweetness

As vinegar cooks down, its natural sugars come through and it loses its sharp edge, says Norris. Simmer balsamic vinegar (Buy It, $12, amazon.com) in rich pasta sauces and stews. Or add a splash of it during the last few minutes of roasting vegetables. It will reduce to a syrupy glaze with hints of tartness.

2. Swap It for Your Salt

Try a dash of vinegar on finished dishes instead of salt. Just a small amount brightens and sharpens flavors, says Norris. (Related: How to Cook with Different Trendy Salts)

3. Don't Be Afraid to Go Bold

There are lots of great vinegars for cooking, but Norris’s favorite is malt vinegar (Buy It, $8, amazon.com), which contains dried barley, is made from fermented ale, and has a complex flavor profile. “I love the sharpness and nuttiness of it, plus it’s a little sweet,” she says. Add a few dashes to roasted potatoes, stir it into grain salads, or shake it over berries and top with fresh basil and mint.