Is there a type of cuisine that never uses garlic? If there is, I don’t know of it. If you cook at all, you probably have garlic in your kitchen in one form or another – or maybe several. Fresh, powdered, as a component in a spice mixture such as curry or chili powder, and in all sorts of processed foods, garlic may just be one of the most universal flavors in savory foods.
Garlic is a member of the onion family. The head of garlic is sometimes called a bulb and individual pieces are cloves. You can use it raw in dressings, marinades and homemade mayonnaise, use it sautéed or fried in soups, stews, or vegetable or meat dishes that are prepared by baking or braising methods and you can even roast a whole bulb (at 375-400 degrees for about 30 minutes) and mash it up on a hunk of crusty French or sourdough bread, sprinkled with salt and olive oil.
What do you need to know about fresh garlic in order to choose a good head, store it, and understand its properties when cooked?
10 Facts You Ought to Know About Garlic (Part 1 – Facts 1-5)
- Choosing fresh garlic – The head of garlic should be hard when you press it firmly in your hand and the “skin,” the part that you peel, should be tight. If a clove (or the entire head) is soft, then it should be discarded.
- Slicing or chopping versus mashing or pressing the clove – The smaller the pieces of garlic, the stronger the garlic flavor and aroma. If you mash or press the cloves, you expose the most surface area and will heighten the garlicky flavor and aroma. Conversely, if you want to keep the flavor and aroma mild, then slice or coarsely chop the garlic. Another trick to minimizing the pungency of garlic, from Harold McGee in his book Keys to Good Cooking: a Guide To Making the Best of Foods and Recipes, is to blanch a whole cloves or slices in boiling water or milk.
- Should you refrigerate fresh garlic or keep it at room temperature? – Refrigerating garlic makes it less pungent, so if you want to keep the flavor and aroma at its peak, keep the head at room temperature.
- Freezing garlic – Yes you can. (I found this surprising, but then again, I had never thought about freezing cooked rice until I started writing this blog.) You should follow the usual rules for freezing, using an airtight bag with the appropriate date and label. You can freeze cloves unpeeled or peeled and chopped or sliced.
- Cooking times and temperature matter when using garlic. Burning garlic makes it bitter. If you have a recipe that uses both onions and garlic, in most cases add the onions first and let them cook a while (because they take longer) before adding the garlic, in order to avoid burning the garlic. The exception to this general rule seems to be stir-frying. I checked my “stir-fry bible”, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, and found that when onions and garlic are included in recipes in that book and they cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute on their own (e.g. Stir-Fried Curried Beef), they go into the wok at the same time.
Check back here next Monday for Part 2 of 10 Facts You Ought to Know About Garlic. In the meantime, what’s your favorite way to use garlic?