Garlic – The Versatile Aromatic Bulb
This week’s flavoring item is garlic. Garlic is a bulb in the onion family. Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek and chive. It has been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. With the exception of the single clove types, the bulb also referred to as a “set” and is divided into numerous fleshy sections called cloves. Cloves can be consumed raw or cooked and have a characteristic pungent, spicy flavor that mellows and sweetens considerably when cooked. Almost every cuisine in the world uses garlic in some form. In Korea, you will often find a small bowl of garlic cloves on the table for something to nosh on, similar to chips and salsa in Mexican restaurants. Garlic comes in several different forms – fresh or whole, granulated and powdered.
Flavor affinities: Garlic pairs well with other aromatics like onions, shallots and chives. In Asian cuisines it is commonly paired with ginger. I like to use garlic with citrus in many of my marinades. It also pairs well with chilies, tomatoes, avocados and most proteins. Cooking oils are flavored with garlic as well.
Fresh Garlic – When using fresh whole garlic cloves, you want to select a “set” of cloves that is very firm with large cloves. You can determine this by rubbing off a few layers of the exterior “paper” from the set and squeezing it. It should be nearly rock hard and not fall apart. One thing to remember when using fresh cloves is the more your process it or chop it, the stronger the garlic flavor. In some dishes where you only want a hint of garlic, toss the whole un-chopped clove in the pot or pan. If you want a stronger contribution of garlic flavor, mince the garlic to release all the juices in the clove(s). The more you masticate the garlic the stronger the flavor.
I used the word “fresh” in the paragraph above. By “fresh,” I do not mean buying those buckets of peeled cloves from Costco, or those small jars of pre-chopped garlic you can find in the produce section of most grocery stores. Neither is fresh, especially the chopped stuff as it often has a metallic off-taste from the preservatives manufacturers add to it. Some argue that putting garlic through a press will adversely affect its flavor compared to mincing with a knife, though I have not proved this out yet.
If you want to soften the flavor of garlic, you can easily roast it in aluminum foil. Simply, peel away the outer layers of the garlic bulb skin, leaving the skins of the individual cloves intact. Using a knife, slice off 1/4 to 3/8 inch of the top of the cloves (not the root end of the plant), exposing the individual cloves of garlic. Coat with olive oil or canola oil. Wrap in aluminum foil and roast at 350 F until soft, or for about 35 minutes. Another way to soften the flavor is to sauté it for a few minutes. This drives off some of the sulfurs, rendering a more subdued and less harsh flavor. My parents use roasted garlic on their bagels instead of butter. Warning: Garlic has a lot of natural sugars, which is why it is so sticky after being minced. These sugars will burn very quickly if sautéed too hot for too long. Once burned, there is NO recovery. Clean out the pan and start again. To avoid this, if onions are used in the recipe, I add my minced garlic to the pan just at the end of sautéing my onions. The moisture released from the onions keeps the pan from getting too hot and burning the garlic.
Granulated Garlic – Granulated garlic is simply dehydrated and ground up garlic, and can be used as a quick substitute for fresh garlic. There are three nice features of garlic in its granulated form: it still tastes like garlic, it can handle higher temperatures than fresh garlic and it pours or sprinkles nicely compared to garlic powder (which usually comes out of a shaker in little clumps). I use granulated garlic in many marinades and dry rubs. When using it, remember it is a dehydrated product and has a lot of flavor when rehydrated. When purchased in bulk, it can be actually cheaper than fresh garlic.
Garlic Powder – Remember, garlic powder has a different taste from fresh garlic, so I don’t use it very much other than in dry rubs if I am out of the granulated form. If used as a substitute for fresh garlic, 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder is roughly equivalent to one clove of garlic, but don’t expect the flavor to be the same. Another reason I do not like using garlic powder is some manufacturers add flour as an anti-caking agent or to thin the product, which of course is not necessary, but is a severe health risk for those with Celiac Disease. If you can go “fresh,” do so, otherwise grab the granulated form.
Garlic also is purported to keep vampires away. I guess this is true because there is no documentation of anyone wearing garlic around his or her neck being attacked. Lastly, another application for garlic is to cut short those late afternoon meetings with your boss. Simply grab a couple cloves, munch on them for a minute or two and presto – a 3 minute meeting! However, don’t expect an evening of romance that same night … and maybe the next.
Until next week, stay well, healthy and do something nice for someone who does not expect it. You will enjoy the look on their face.
Chef David Hall
Thyme for a Chef