The Complete Guide to Messin’ Around with Garlic

by Kelly on October 5, 2010   

From a "head" of garlic come "cloves" -- a large clove of garlic on the left, and small clove on the right, and some of the "paper" of the garlic head has been peeled off

I love garlic. Just the right amount of garlic, that is. There is a restaurant nearby (or 100 restaurants) that has taken the public’s love of garlic to the extreme — they are quite simply overdoing it, and that gives garlic a bad name. They have gallons of pre-chopped garlic on hand, so the temptation to slop just a little more each time into that pasta dish or onto that pizza has resulted in a garlic knock-down, and you come out smelling like the stuff.

Rules of thumb: mince, chop or whatever you’re doing to the garlic just before using it. It’ll be fresher and less bitter. Resist the urge to go wild with it, and exercise restraint if you’re using it raw. Rub your fingers with a lemon wedge to get rid of the smell, unless you like it on your hands!

Raw garlic can have a caffeine effect on some folks, so keep it to a dull roar. I had just discovered the wonderful technique of rubbing the cut side of a garlic clove onto toasted and oiled bread, but I wasn’t given the instruction to use one clove of garlic for, say, 12 to 15 pieces of bread — maybe not even a whole clove is needed. Just a brush-by, not a grind. Anyway, I must have used several cloves, and wow, those crostini were crazy-strong. We ate ’em up, and then I was awake all night with a very stimulated heart rate and some breath that would have been enough for any vampire.

Moderation = Love.

Roasted garlic = Passion.

I really want one to myself, but I will share

How to Peel, Chop, Mince, Paste and Roast Garlic

Regular garlic has smallish cloves, 12 to 15 of them per head. Look for a compact, firm, non-sprouting head for the freshest flavor. Elephant garlic is something between a leek and garlic, bearing some flavor resemblance. Its big cloves are milder but can be used in the same way.

If you need only a clove, peel away some of the paper and snap one off of the outside of the head. To break up the head, turn it to angle down against the board and give it a good whack. One way is to hold the heel of your hand against the garlic, and use the other hand as the “hammer.”

Turn the head at a downward angle to the board and give it a good smack with the heel of your hand

The cloves will easily break off the root. They can be used just like this — with the paper on — to roast with chicken or meat. Then you will squeeze the pulpy garlic out of the paper to eat with the chicken.

To remove the paper from an individual clove, place the flat side of a chef’s knife on top of the clove and give it (again!) a good whack to crack the paper. Depending on how hard you’ve whacked it, the clove will either be whole or impressively smashed.

Just a firm pop with the heel of your and will crack the paper

Trim off the root and pull away the paper.

This one I gave a mild whack, so the garlic clove is fairly intact but the paper peels right off -- when you trim off the root the paper will come away completely

Four degrees of strength applied to the whack on the knife gives you cloves ranging from intact to smashed

A whole, intact garlic clove can go right into a stew or sauce, which can be removed before serving. I like to split them so that the oils come through but they are still easy to find when I want to take them out. Cook whole cloves gently in butter and cream for half an hour to mash and add to mashed potatoes. Slice whole cloves for the basic Italian aglio/olio combination, which I use for pasta, boiled potatoes, and countless other dishes that would be good with some garlicky oil.

Make the classic pasta sauce, aglio, olio e peperoncino, by gently cooking sliced garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil

Cook it gently because garlic gets bitter if overcooked

From here, depending on how far along the initial smash takes you, you can chop (large dry chunks), mince (small dry chunks), or mince to a paste (gooey and pasty). The helpful ingredient in any of these processes is salt, which makes the garlic a little sticky and prevents the little bits from flying around on the board.

This is a medium-smashed clove of garlic -- sprinkle just a tiny pinch of salt on it before chopping

The salt makes it a little sticky and helps the garlic cling to the knife -- this is chopped and can be used in any recipe that calls for chopped garlic

Use the knife to "gather up" the garlic as you keep chopping it -- this is minced at this stage

To move to the paste stage, smash the minced garlic against the board with the side of the knife, breaking the chunks down, and then continue to chop it, alternating between the two

This is pretty pasty, and will melt nicely into a dish where you don't want the garlic to have an obvious presence

Roasting garlic renders it so tame and mild and sweet, a delicious condiment for a hunk of great Italian bread. Hard to say how many to make, but I would easily eat half a head of it, with no adverse effects.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line custard cups or muffin tin cups with foil (for easier cleanup). Use fresh, whole, intact heads of garlic. Peel away the outside papery layers, but leave the cloves attached. Trim just the top of the garlic head, leaving most of the cloves covered with their paper.

Some recipes instruct you to cut a lot off the top, but I like to let the garlic cook inside its own paper

Place the garlic in the cup and drizzle it with a teaspoon or so of olive oil, aiming for the spaces between the cloves. Rub the outside layers to coat. Sprinkle with sea salt and place a rosemary sprig under the head if desired.

Try to drizzle between the cloves

After rubbing with oil, sprinkle the garlic head with sea salt and tuck a rosemary sprig underneath

Cook the garlic for 34 to 45 minutes in the preheated oven, checking to make sure it isn’t getting burned. Cover lightly with foil if it’s getting too brown.

Remove and serve on plate, drizzled with the olive oil that has collected at the bottom of the cup.

Garlic = Life.

Kelly McCune © 2010
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jill March 19, 2011 at 1:43 pm

I was looking for the name of the rubber thing you put garlic into to get the paper off and “stumbled” into your blog. I am so happy for that fortunate accident. I fully intend to visit you again. I love your recipes, love your pictures …. love your attitude. I still don’t know the name of the garlic thingy…but…who cares?

Kelly March 19, 2011 at 6:04 pm

My tool drawer is so crowded I couldn’t buy or find the rubber thingy if I wanted to! So I try to do things with as few tools as possible…when I learned the garlic cracking/chopping method I never looked back, and don’t even own a garlic press!

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