Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Zen of Garlic...

"A nickel gets you on the subway, but garlic gets you a seat." Old Yissish saying

Fresh garlic (Allium sativum) is the most aromatic member of the onion family and it adds a lot of flavor to many dishes. When raw it can be powerfully pungent, but when cooked it can be savory, mellow, nutty, and even sweet.

A head or bulb of garlic is pictured here. Like an orange, it contains numerous small sections. They are called cloves. Unless the recipe says otherwise, you want to remove the papery skin from each clove and cut off the woody base. If it has begun to sprout, remove the green parts which can be bitter.

Garlic can be stored at room temp, in the refrigerator, or even frozen. It can also be packed in vinegar or white wine. This "pickled" garlic is great for use in sauces and salad dressings. I like to make roasted garlic and freeze it.
brabecue garlic
Roasted garlic

Raw garlic is harsh and sulfury, strong enough to ward off vampires. But it gets mellow, nutty, and sweet when cooked. But not too mellow. It still retains its unique character. One of the best ways to mellow garlic is to roast it. It makes a great spread on bread, toast, or crackers. I also use it in mashed potatoes, salad dressings, soups, and sauces. It's easy.

1) Setup your grill for 2-zone indirect cooking and preheat to medium.

2) With a sharp knife, cut off the pointy end of each garlic head about 1/2" below the top of the head. This should be deep enough to expose the flesh of most of the cloves within. If not, cut a little further down. Separate the cloves slightly so the head is loose and there is a bit of space between cloves.

3) Tear off a square of aluminum foil, and sit the head on the foil. Wrap the lower half of the head in foil so it will act like a heat shield during re-entry and a base for it to stand up on. Drip the oil over the bare garlic meat and let a little run down between the cloves. If you like, sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the exposed flesh.

4) Place the whole shootin' match on the grill in the indirect heat zone. After about 30 minutes stick a pointy knife into one of the center cloves. If it meets resistence, cook another 15 to 30 minutes. If it slides in like buttah, it is done.
Stuck indoors?

Preheat the oven to 350°F and place the garlic in a pan rather than foil. Some folks wrap it in foil and then bake.
In a hurry?

Cut off the garlic's top, soak it under water for about 3 minutes, wrap in plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the wrap so the steam will escape, and microwave on high for about a minute.
Make extra

You can serve it like this and just spread it on bread or spread it on bread and grill it, or pop the cloves out of the paper, put them in a plastic bag in the fridge for a week, or even freeze them. Keep some on hand. You'll be glad you did.

You should never try to pack it in oil because, unless the garlic is treated, it can produce Clostridium botulinum, the microbe that causes deadly botulism. Many Italian-American restaurants put bottles of olive oil with garlic cloves lolling in the bottom on their tables. The Ph.D. FDA food safety expert I married views this warily and cites several outbreaks of botulism as a result of this practice.

When a recipe calls for garlic to be crushed, minced, or pressed, I use a garlic press. A good garlic press is an important tool because it releases more oils and flavors than mincing with a knife and pressed garlic coats the food more evenly than mincing. Get one that is sturdily built, that is easy to grip, that is easy to clean, and has a large hopper to hold big cloves. Avoid non-stick models. I have a well-used Trudeau Garlic Press, shown here.

Pressed garlic undergoes a transformation with as little as 30 seconds in warm oil. Cooking it in oil for too long can turn it dark brown, crunchy, and even bitter. If your recipe calls for sautéing onions and garlic, add the onions first, wait til they are ready, and add the garlic for just a minute. Then add the rest of the ingredients quickly before the garlic gets bitter.

If the recipe calls for raw garlic and taste of garlic is too strong for you, simmering whole garlic cloves in water, broth, or milk can mellow it in about 15 minutes. Then chop or mince it and sauté it.

Sometimes fresh garlic will turn blue when cooked in acids like lemon juice. If you notice blue flecks, don't worry, they will brown when the liquid evaporates and the flavor will not be altered.

Not surprisingly, just as there are many different types of onion, there are many different types of garlic. Some are more pungent than others, some are sweeter, and some are slightly hot, and their quality varies from climate to climate and year to year. The common grocery store garlic is called the artichoke garlic and much of it is grown in Gilroy, CA, home of a major garlic festival. One can often find elephant garlic, with huge cloves and a mild, onion-like flavor, not surprising because it is technically a leek.

If you grow garlic, you can eat the bulbs that grow below ground, the stalks when young, and even the flowers. Gourmet Garlic Gardens is a good source for different cultivars.

Small clove of garlic = about 1/2 teaspoon
Medium clove = about 1 teaspoon
Large clove = about 1 1/2 teaspoons
Extra-large clove = about 2 teaspoons

Garlic powder is dehydrated ground garlic. It tastes similar to fresh garlic, but it is not the same. There are times when it is better than fresh garlic and there are times when fresh is best. If you must substitute, try this formula:

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder = about 1 medium clove fresh garlic

Garlic salt is garlic powder mixed with salt and an anticaking agent. I never use it. I prefer using garlic powder and then adding salt as necessary.

Because garlic is known to repel vampires, one should keep plenty on hand. It's a matter of life and death.

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