How To: Treat Your Garlic Right

Posted by on Sunday Nov 6th, 2011 | Print

Most of our savory dishes contain at least a clove of garlic. It’s third, after salt and oil, for adding flavor. Yet not all garlic preparations are created equally, and you’ll have to treat your garlic pretty differently depending on your ultimate culinary goal.

To get a sense of the variety of taste sensations, picture a head of garlic. Now, carefully peel off the skin and see your whole, raw clove. Looks nice. Now, imagine biting into that clove. That sharp, spicy taste? Not something you want to burst right on your tongue. Let that be your primary standard: you never want your food to contain raw garlic that must be chomped down on. The spicy taste should always be released prior to meeting the teeth. Keep this–and the fact that you want to mince garlic as evenly as possible–on your mind at all times as you read our tips on cooking with garlic. Here we go!

**How To: Treat Your Garlic Right**

When Raw, Chop Small. If the spicy taste is what you’re after–and you may be, if you’re making certain salad dressings, guacamole, or salsas–you’ll want to mince your garlic into tiny little even pieces. This is best done by chopping a garlic clove as you’d chop an onion, just on a smaller level. If you ever feel inclined to stop mincing before the garlic is tiny, think about the breath of the poor soul who bites into your salad and is delivered a burst of fresh garlicky flavor. Think harder if you have to kiss him/her. One of our favorite use for raw garlic is simply rubbed on toasted bread, like the Spanish pan con tomate; for every other raw purpose, go the purée route.

Pureé with Salt. When we’re serving garlic raw, we normally skip right through that fine mince and go straight for the puree instead. If pesto is your end goal, a food processor will get your cloves totally pureed (throw a sprinkle of coarse salt in there with the garlic). By hand, mince the garlic as small as possible. Sprinkle with salt, then continue to chop. The salt will start to pulverize the garlic, and that’s when you can use your knife as a press, smushing as you go, til you have a lovely paste. Here’s our video of how it’s done. What you’re doing here is pre-releasing the flavor so diners’ tastebuds get a pleasant hit of garlic, not an abrasive, breath-killing assault.

When Cooking, Don’t Smush. That same ephemeral spiciness that we love in garlic can get bitter, even burnt, when released too soon. When you’re peeling garlic you plan to cook with, don’t use your knife to press down on it, which conveniently loosens the skin. That will crack open the garlic, pre-releasing those lovely garlic flavors. Which is fine when you’re eating garlic raw. But when you go to cook it, you’ve got a higher chance of burning your garlic. Burnt garlic is the other end of the bad garlic spectrum. Think garlic bagel, and then try to add that to your delicate marinara. Ick. Though it may be harder to pry the skin from the clove without the benefit of the smush, your food will taste better if you skip it.

Softly Sautéed. For many sauces, stir fries, and sautés, you’ll want your garlic only just cooked, to the point where it’s released its scent and fragrance but isn’t veering anywhere near burnt; your minced garlic will be wilted, melted, soft. If you’ve been sautéing onions already to be part of a sauce or a veggie sauté, you’ll want to cook the minced garlic for about 2 minutes. If you love garlic, don’t cook less–add more! (Again, mincing your garlic evenly is key; otherwise, large pieces will still be raw when smaller ones are heading towards burnt.) You can achieve the same taste in the oven–that’s what Garlic Bread is all about. I also love to scatter minced garlic on homemade pizza before baking; those 15 minutes in the oven release the flavors and make the pizza OMG delicious.

Gold Is King. Garlic is elevated to royalty when fried in enough oil to become golden and deeply, intensely flavorful. You’ll need a little more oil than usual to get perfectly golden garlic, and you’ll want to use a spacious frying pan in which the garlic has room to breathe aka fry. There are a couple ways to go about this. You can mince the garlic–evenly of course–slice it, or leave it whole. Skim a pan with oil, heat it for 1-2 minutes over medium heat, then add your garlic. It should sizzle immediately. Cook, stirring occasionally, to make sure all sides are turning gold, then add tomatoes or other ingredients, or simply use the oil–now saturated with garlic–for flavoring, as we do in this Linguine Aglio e Olio.

Confit. If you get in the habit of making garlic confit–i.e., roasting it in a pool of oil until it’s soft–you’ll have gotten something worthwhile out of BGSK even if you never venture any deeper into our recipe index. The easiest way is to slice the garlic horizontally just below the stem, which will expose all the cloves. Then put the whole head in a small, oven-proof pan and cover with oil. Roast for about 1 hour at 300°F, or til the cloves are soft. When cool, squeeze all the cloves out. You can also do as we do here. Then, smash up the cloves, add salt, and dip bread in the oil-garlic mixture–or spoon them into mashed potatoes.

Whole Cloves, a Reward for Laziness. If you’ll be cooking a dish for a while–stews are a good example–you can save a ton of time and avoid scenting your fingers with garlic by simply not mincing or slicing the garlic at all. When your Chicken Stew is nearly done cooking, you’re able to smash the garlic with a wooden spoon, though leaving it whole allows lucky guests to find a deletable soft clove in the middle of their bowl!

Clean with Lemon…and Metal. We’ve heard it all when it comes to stripping your hands of the long-lasting scent that garlic’s sap leaves all over your fingers. My current favorite technique is lemon juice–I discovered this when making dressing one day, when I squeezed in lemon after chopping garlic and found my hands cured of their scent. But we’ve also heard people who swear by stainless steel: try running your hands around your sink’s metal faucet. Or, simply bask in the odor, which reminds you and the world that you’re an accomplished quarter-life cook!

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