A few weeks ago, my boyfriend stole a bite of my ice cream and screamed. “Did you put salt on this?” he asked, visibly upset. I nodded. “Maldon is sprinkles,” I said, my voice devoid of empathy or sympathy. That’ll teach him to steal my treats! (It didn’t.)
This man is always accusing me of futzing too much with my food, as if it’s not my literal job. (I don’t wander on to his job sites and tell him how to paint, so I don’t know why he feels free to comment on my business!) “How good does something have to be?” he’ll ask, as I finish and flourish and tweak until the very last moment. “Things can always be better,” I tell him.
And putting Maldon flake salt on ice cream makes it better. It enhances the flavours and provides contrast, just like it would in a savoury dish, and it tempers the sweetness, letting you enjoy more ice cream. But it’s not the only “weird” ingredient you can use to finish your ice cream, oh no. There’s also oil and vinegar.
The case for putting olive oil on ice cream
I am not the first person to do this. According to The Kitchn, the folks at Big Gay Ice Cream have been utilising this move for quite a while, and Salt & Straw has featured olive oil ice cream on their menu for at least as long as I’ve live in Portland.
High-quality olive oil is luxurious, and pouring it over ice cream is flat-out indulgent. You don’t need a lot — a thin drizzle will do — but make sure you’re using the good stuff. (I went to the grocery store and bought the most expensive olive oil they had, and that worked just fine.) The combination of dairy dessert and pure fat might seem too heavy, but a fancy olive oil will offer peppery, savoury contrast and a decadent mouthfeel. (Milder, cheaper oils offer fat but no flavour, and that’s not what you want.)
Flavour-wise, keep it simple: Big Gay Ice Cream favours a basic vanilla, but chocolate works well too (the darker, the better).
Try a little acid
Oil and vinegar go together like — well, they actually aren’t that miscible, but we think of them as a natural pairing. I wouldn’t advise putting oil and vinegar on your ice cream at the same time — it’s not a salad! — but you should definitely alternate.
You do, unfortunately, need to use a very high-quality balsamic; unless you shop at a specialty grocery store, the stuff at your local market probably won’t cut it. Look for bottles labelled “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale” with D.O.P. seal — that’s how you know you’re getting the good stuff. The vinegar should be thick and sweet, almost like a syrup. Drizzle it on strawberry ice cream. It’s heavenly.
A more cost-effective, but equally delicious option is ume plum vinegar, which isn’t a true vinegar, but a byproduct of the umeboshi making process. It’s incredibly sour and salty, with some funky fermented stone fruit notes that play extremely well with the entire catalogue of fruit flavored ice creams (though I am partial to adding it to strawberry and peach).
Whether you finish with oil or vinegar (or neither), make sure to add a pinch of flake salt as your sprinkles. If people question you, just look at them with dead eyes and tell them, with as little emotion as possible, that “Maldon is sprinkles.” It is, after all, the truth.