Ever ask yourself if you’re adding garlic at the right time to that marinara or stew? Ever wonder why your guests are crinkling up their noses when you’ve thrown some raw, minced garlic into that nice big salad you made?
Well here are just a few tips I’ve gleaned while doing my research and talking to Chef Martin Gilligan on the ever-important topic of garlic.
Cooking something in on the stovetop? 99% of the time sautéed and minced is the way to go. This runs the gamut from your grandma’s perfect marinara sauce to stews to succotash. Chef Gilligan says, “Always sauté your garlic in oil. It disperses the flavor into the sauce and mellows the high acidity of raw or unevenly cooked garlic, bringing out a slightly nutty and robust flavor.”
Have a recipe that calls for butter instead of oil? Be careful! Garlic will burn twice as fast when it’s sautéed in butter or butter and oil than just oil alone. To sauté garlic, mince or chop as desired. Heat oil in a an evenly-heating (balanced) medium skillet. Heat oil , butter or fat to medium heat and stir often to prevent burning. If sautéing both onions and garlic, start with the onions then push them to the perimeter of the pan and introduce the garlic, allowing it to sauté over medium heat until you smell it releasing its flavor, then combine with onions or other ingredients. And keep in mind--burnt garlic is the scourge of many eaters and cooks alike, so don’t do it! Accidentally burnt the garlic? Toss it. Wipe the pan and start again.
For Asian dishes which call for garlic for a stir fry, the objective is to get the garlic to release its flavor into the oil. Though it’s not strictly kosher, some cooks say heating the garlic in a good cast iron skillet with cold oil on a cold skillet is the way to go. Having all your ingredients chopped and ready to go, is also a good way to stay in sync and prevent overcooking the garlic. More here.
Now a rundown of how to get the garlicky goodness you desire from mild to full-flavor.
Mild— Use whole cloves. For dishes that call for a mellow garlic flavor, the most mellow garlic taste you can get is from the whole clove. The acid of the garlic is never introduced when you cook with it in this way. If you’re making at pot of soup or are roasting a chicken and want to achieve a mild garlic flavor, whole is the way to go. You can also combine whole and minced to provide different notes of garlic. Want mild garlic in a salad or some other uncooked dish? Slice a clove in half and rub in on the interior of a wooden bowl, then mix. If that's not strong enough for your salad, pulverize a small amount of garlic and mix that into your dressing or oil to evenly disperse the flavor. More great info can be found at Recipetips.com.
Mild + — Go with sliced. One step up from using it whole, use it sliced. Sure you can get totally extreme with it, opting for the razor blade method (made famous in Goodfellas). Sliced garlic can be easier to control too, making it a good choice for a number of stovetop recipes and sautéed vegetables.
Medium— Chop away. The smaller you chop garlic, the more juice and oil you’re going to get. As Chef Gilligan says, “The more of the surface area of the garlic you introduce to the air, the stronger it’s going to be.” He recommends, chopping or mincing and storing it in oil and popping that into the fridge for easy access.
Full Flavor—Mince it. Yup, mincing is the way to go if you want that full aroma and flavor. Most chefs prefer mincing to pulverizing or using a garlic press and, to be fair, there’s a whole lot of debate on whether to press or not. As one foodie in defense of the garlic press puts it: “Garlic’s flavor and aroma emerge only as its cell walls are ruptured and release an enzyme called alliinase, so a finely processed clove gives you a better distribution of garlic and fuller garlic flavor throughout the dish.” Chef Gilligan and other notable chefs like Emeril Lagasse say no to the press, saying it wastes much of the garlic clove and doesn’t achieve the same results as mincing, chopping or slicing.
Fuller Flavor—Want the full effect, the kind that will leave you reeking of garlic? Try a wasabi grinder.
Other notable preparations you may want to try, Garlic Confit, recommended by Gilligan who recommends using just the oil for mellow flavor and the cloves for fuller flavor.
And then, of course, there’s heavenly roasted garlic. What could be better than slow roasted garlic spread on some crispy sourdough? The next time you grill, douse a head with a tablespoon of olive oil and wrap in aluminum foil and put that on the grill or do it in the oven with this recipe. For a slightly mellower garlic flavor, opt for Elephant Garlic (also called Spanish Garlic).
Got a winning garlic preparation? Want to weigh in with your insights and opinions on the most stinking of roses? Write in!