Amid the huge bottles and tins of cooking oils you see in supermarkets, you've probably noticed smaller containers. They're not travel-sized oils; rather, they're what are known as finishing oils, and while they're not the workhorses that everyday olive oil, grapeseed, and safflower are, they're absolutely worth adding to your ingredient repertoire.
Finishing oils are "about imparting color, rich flavor, and that extra fullness of texture," says Matthieu Kohlmeyer, president and CEO of artisan oil maker La Tourangelle. Finishing oils are just that—oils meant for finishing a dish, not for cooking it. In general, Kohlmeyer doesn't advise cooking with them because when oils are heated, they tend to lose their flavor, and many good-quality finishing oils don't take heat well anyway. Oils for finishing have a lower smoke point than cooking oils, so they're at their peak flavor when they're only heated minimally—or not at all. Think of finishing oils as a condiment, where a little bit goes a long way. A drizzle adds flavor to salads, rice, pasta, pizza, vegetables, and meats—especially grilled ones. You can even add a drizzle to smoothies, oatmeal, or ice cream.
Kohlmeyer likens having a few finishing oils to discovering a whole new spice rack. "They expand what you can do in the kitchen," he says. Start with a really excellent extra virgin olive oil he suggests. Pour a small amount over a few slices of heirloom tomato, mozzarella, basil leaves, and sea salt, and you'll see how transformative a finishing oil can be.
Next try a good truffle oil (Kohlmeyer's pick: La Tourangelle White Truffle Infused Oil with Italian White Alba Truffle it has the incredible ability of making comfort foods, like roasted potatoes or pasta, taste gourmet). Finally, round out your finishing oils arsenal with a nut oil such as walnut (shown above to finish a steamed vegetable salad), or hazelnut oil. Kohlmeyer's favorite is pistachio oil over lamb.
Finding the right pairing of finishing oil and dishes can take some practice; one of Kohlmeyer's tricks is to experiment on small portions of a dish. Take a tiny portion and drizzle it with just a few drops of the finishing oil. If it tastes great, go ahead and finish the whole dish. Because finishing oils by definition go on last, it's easy to experiment without committing the whole entree to the trial.