Could basil be the secret ingredient to spice up cocktail hour? The ubiquitous herb lends a unique earthiness to food and drinks unlike anything else. One of the easiest ways to punch up your drinks is by making an oleo saccharum, which is essentially a sugar oil that works in place of a simple syrup. An oleo saccharum can be made overnight—the oil is extracted from lemon and basil simply by covering it with sugar. A standard simple syrup, however, requires a burner and waiting around for a boil. Just give your oleo saccharum a vigorous shake from time to time and you'll get a delightfully pungent syrup in return. Take note: You won't need to use as much in cocktails as you would a simple syrup!
1 Bunch Basil
2-3 Large Lemons
Mason Jar with Lid
Peeler or Paring Knife
Remove peels from 2 lemons with a peeler or knife, making sure to get just the skin above the pith (the white part) to avoid any bitter notes. Pluck the leaves from one bunch of basil (about 1 cup packed) and cut into ribbons by stacking leaves, rolling, and cutting.
Place 1⁄4-cup sugar into the mason jar, add lemon peels, and basil. Seal jar, shake to cover contents with sugar, and leave it on your countertop. Give the jar a slight swirl now and then, and by the next morning, the oil should be separate. Stir remaining contents to dissolve remaining sugar particles and run through a strainer to remove solids.
To speed up the process, you can gently press the contents of the jar with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon. This process should produce 1⁄4-cup of oleo and should be refrigerated after each use. Chilled, it will keep for up to 4 weeks.