Garlic is a study in contradiction. Its aroma can be both overpowering and alluring, while its flavor can be either intense or buttery-sweet. Yes, garlic is a bit of a mystery but knowing what it’s all about is key to unlocking its best characteristics for whatever dish you’re making.
The Anatomy of Garlic: On its own, a head of garlic doesn’t smell very strong. That’s because garlic contains two chemical compounds which are separated by cell walls within the individual cloves making up the head. To get that unmistakable garlic flavor and aroma, those cell walls separating the compounds must be destroyed by chopping or cutting the cloves. It’s when the compounds co-mingle that you get the unmistakable garlic taste and scent. How extensive the cutting process is will determine how intense the garlic flavor will be – whole garlic cloves are very mild while minced garlic is very strong.
Buying Garlic: Garlic can be divided into two species: hard-neck and soft-neck. Grocery store garlic is almost always soft-neck because it stores well for long periods of time. Hard-neck varieties, distinguished by the stiff stem running down the center of the head and easy-to-peel cloves, are robust in flavor but don’t store as well – expect to find these varieties at summer farmer’s markets. Enjoy them while they’re available, but use quickly to take advantage of their big flavor.
Store fresh garlic at room temperature in a cool, dark, dry place. Over time garlic cloves may start to sprout – they’re still usable, although their flavor may be less intense than fresher garlic. The green shoot should be removed from cloves before cooking; it’s bitter.
You can also find peeled, packaged garlic cloves in the produce aisle of the grocery store. While convenient, this garlic can lack flavor – you may want to slightly increase the amount called for in a recipe if using this product.
Cooking with Garlic: For subtle, sweet garlic flavor, roast, braise or boil whole cloves, then incorporate them into the dish by mashing or puréeing. Sautéing sliced, chopped or minced garlic gives a dish more intense flavor but it burns easily, turning the flavor acrid and bitter. Watch the garlic carefully to keep it from scorching.
For a pungent hit of garlic flavor, rub raw cloves on the surface of warm toasted baguette – garlic toast will never be the same! You can also mash raw cloves into a paste with a pinch of kosher salt and add to salad dressings or marinades.
Don’t panic if, during cooking, your minced garlic turns blue or green – it’s an enzymatic reaction that doesn’t change the flavor of the garlic at all.
Health Benefits: Garlic has antioxidant and antibacterial properties which link it to many health benefits. Some research suggests eating garlic may lower cholesterol and blood pressure, slow hardening of arteries and even reduce risks of certain types of cancer.
What is Black Garlic?: No, it’s not garlic that’s gone bad – this trendy restaurant ingredient is simply regular garlic that’s been slowly cooked and aged over the course of several weeks until it turns sticky, soft and black. Like roasted garlic, it has a mellow flavor but is deeper and richer.
Whether it’s raw, roasted, sautéed or braised, garlic is an indispensable ingredient in today’s kitchen and will give all your dishes a distinct, undeniably delicious flavor.