Hidden in every clove of garlic is an abundance of unmatched flavours. But more garlic does not mean more flavour. To coax garlic’s flavours and intensity, you need to prepare it properly, though there is no single correct cooking method. It depends on the dish you’re cooking. Julia Child’s mashed potato recipe calls for thirty cloves, boiled whole, to give it a mellow garlic flavour. Just a single clove, properly pressed or minced, will add an intense taste to a Caesar salad. The difference is in the preparation. Here we share how and when to prep garlic to bring out the desired taste and intensity.
Prepping garlic is the first step in cooking with garlic. Most recipes call for the clove to be removed or “cracked” (see page 79) from the garlic bulb. Set aside unused cloves with skin intact for later use.
REMOVING THE SKIN
Some cooks find peeling small cloves tedious and time-consuming. Farmer Ed Burt has been farming on Manitoulin Island since 1950, when he first put his hands in the soil as a very young boy. His grandfather, who taught him, started farming on the island in the late nineteenth century. Here’s Bart’s opinion on small cloves: “I’m grateful for the opportunity to own a bulb of garlic, to hold a part of creation. I can’t imagine being upset about peeling a little bit of skin on a clove of garlic.”130
“SIDE OF KNIFE” METHOD
Place the cloves on a chopping board and crush them with the side of a cooking knife. This loosens the skin, making it easy to peel away and dispose. Or use a heavy-bottomed jar or cooking pot to whack them on the cutting board. This is the most popular method.
CUT THE BASE
Cut off the root end of the clove before crushing; this dislodges the skin from the clove’s basal plate (root).
Place the cloves in a large aluminum bowl, with a same-size bowl (or pot lid) on top. Hold them tightly together and shake vigorously for thirty seconds to loosen the skins. This works best for cloves with loose skin.
Soak the cloves for an hour in lukewarm water. Then drain the water and remove the peels.
Some people think that peeling and cutting garlic is too messy and makes their fingers smell of garlic. Personally, I like it—garlicky fingers are my calling card. It helps me meet new friends and is a conversation-starter. For those who prefer it, pre-peeled Ontario garlic is available from The Garlic Box in many supermarkets, in the frozen food section.
Each method produces a different texture, flavour and intensity. Feel free to experiment. Here, in order of strength, are the most popular methods of releasing garlic’s flavours.
Boil unpeeled cloves as directed in a recipe. This releases some mild garlic flavours (very little allicin is created), and some say, a subtle sweetness.
COARSE CHOPPED GARLIC
Peel, smash and chop coarsely. This produces a small amount of allicin. It works best for garlic bits fried in oil. The browned nuggets are a tasty garnish on soup or salad. Coarsely chopped pieces retain some of the clove’s structure, leaving most cells intact until the dish is served. As the bits are chewed, allicin is released inside the mouth.
FINELY CHOPPED GARLIC
Finely chopped garlic is stronger and works better in liquids than fried in oil.
MORTAR AND PESTLE
Peel, place in mortar and grind to a paste. This produces a larger amount of allicin, similar to mincing. The paste it produces works well in liquids and makes a good spread (see Roasted Beets with Almond-Potato Skordalia, page 114).
Peel, smash, mince and smash again. This produces the most allicin of any knife-prep method. It works best in liquids.
Peel, place in press and squeeze over small bowl. This produces more allicin than any knife-based method and protects your fingers from touching the garlic. Most presses these days are self-cleaning: tiny nubs are aligned to poke out the garlic pulp after use. Scrape off any pressed garlic and add to the bowl. Pressed garlic works best in liquids.
Peel, hold clove in two fingers and grate. This method releases the most allicin and provides maximum garlic flavour. Microplaned garlic works best in liquids. Take care to protect your fingers!
Whatever prep method you use, timing is critical. Once the cells of the clove have been breached, add garlic to the recipe as soon as possible. Unlike most ingredients, the volatile compounds that make up the odour and taste of garlic will quickly dissipate. Dr. Chung-Ja Jackson has studied garlic at the University of Guelph and notes that most of the allicin is created within a few minutes. That’s why Chef Michael Stadtländer uses garlic immediately after chopping. “I don’t like it sitting around when I’m cooking a la minute.”
The cooking method used—including duration and temperature—is crucial. It contributes to the variety of flavours released, its level of sweetness, caramelization and the garlic intensity, or heat, of the dish.
DON’T BURN GARLIC
Because garlic has less water than onions, it burns easily. In the right hands, garlic taken to the precipice of being burned does have its place, and many chefs will cook garlic to the point of almost burning it to get a rich umami flavour. At medium or high heat, in a few seconds, its pleasant smell can turns from pleasant to harsh. But many recipes call for garlic to be added to hot oil. But how can you avoid burning garlic? Don’t let it cook in hot oil for more than a few seconds before adding other ingredients. Safer still is adding the garlic after the liquid ingredients.
Vinegar, citrus fruits, tomatoes and other acid-based foods mute garlic’s ability to make allicin. Wait ten seconds after releasing the allicin before you add it to an acidic liquid. For example, when adding garlic to a vinegar- based salad dressing or to a pot of tomatoes, wait ten seconds before adding crushed garlic to the liquid.
DELAY ADDING GARLIC
Add garlic at the end of cooking. Since heat destroys allicin some chefs and home cooks add extra garlic at the end of the cooking process, after the heat is turned off. If your objective is an extra-garlicky taste (or to fight a cold or flu), then you’ll want to follow this method.
Aside from raw and whole garlic, there are other ways to prepare garlic. Methods that involve processing the garlic include black garlic and smoked garlic.
Black garlic, otherwise known as fermented garlic, is a black, tar-like substance. Its flavour is a little bit bitter and a little bit sweet, with hints of balsamic vinegar, molasses, licorice and tamarind. Its umami works well in seaweed-based broths, and in desserts it’s extraordinary. Despite the name, the process that makes black garlic black is not fermentation (microbial metabolism). Instead, it is due to the enzymatic breakdown of allinase and the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction is the chemical reaction that gives a uniquely delicious flavour to browned foods, such as roasted coffee, maple sugar, chocolate and the darkened crust of bread. The reaction results in hundreds of different flavour compounds, depending on the type of food. The flavour of fermented garlic is similar to but distinct from other foods that have gone through the Maillard reaction. Black garlic delicacies featured at the Festival include Black Garlic Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream, Black Garlic and Tanzanian Dark Chocolate Truffles, Black Garlic Butter Tarts, and Black Garlic Brownies.
Smoking garlic started as a method to preserve it’s now appreciated as another way to experience a delicious garlic flavour.