Today, let’s talk about a foundational ingredient in cooking. It just so happens to moonlight as a treatment for numerous ailments, from the common cold to high cholesterol: garlic. You know what garlic is thanks to my post all about alliums. But do you know how to prepare it for use in your kitchen?
Of course, first, we should distinguish the parts of a head of garlic. Pictured at the top of this post is a whole head of garlic. A head usually contains about ten cloves. Fun (and confusing) fact: a head of garlic was traditionally called a clove, but because cooks consistently used the word to describe a portion of the head, the definition of the word gradually drifted. Pictured below is a single clove of garlic, by today’s definition.
When you are preparing garlic to mince, slice, or chop, you must peel it first. The paper-y layer is not edible, though it can be saved to add to vegetable broth. If you’re peeling a few cloves, you have some options. You can slice off the base and then peel the paper off with your fingers. You could also use a garlic peeler such a silicon sleeve, which is slightly less messy.
If you’re stuck with the task of peeling a whole head of garlic, you unfortunate soul, here is a time-saving trick: slice off the base of the head, pry the cloves apart and stick them in a metal bowl. Fit a second bowl of the same size over the first, creating a large sphere, and shake them vigorously for 30 to 60 seconds. The paper-y skin will be removed by the friction and you will have a whole head of peeled garlic in no time.
Mincing and Chopping Garlic
You will often see instructions in recipes to mince or chop a few cloves of garlic. You can use a paring knife or a chef’s knife to do this, as long as you’re comfortable making fine motions with the instrument.
A “mince” is usually quite fine, perhaps the consistency in the image above. A chop is usually more coarse, with larger slivers. Unlike dicing onions, there is not a trick to mincing garlic, you just slice and dice over the clove multiple times until it has the consistency you prefer.
A few instruments exist to aid in this process. You could use a garlic grinder, which will result in something more like a mash but will save your fingers from smelling like garlic for hours. You can also use a garlic press, though a lot of moisture is lost as you wring the clove through the metal plate. In my kitchen, I do it the old-fashioned way, and manipulate the size of the mince according to the recipe.
This mode of preparing garlic is a little more advanced. Slicing garlic thinly will make it melt in your mouth if eaten raw. Thinly sliced garlic will integrate quickly into whatever dish or sauce you are making, so it’s ideal for a quick pan sauce. Beyond those uses, however, you might as well stick with a fine mince, and save the razor blade for shaving.
The last mode of preparation we will discuss for garlic is blackening it. Black garlic is an unusual ingredient that you can buy in some Asian food markets or make at home, to add to all sorts of sauces, dressings, and marinades to deepen the flavor.
If you find yourself with an abundance of heads of garlic, say, in your CSA share, you can preserve it by making some black garlic. Simply chuck a whole head in the slow cooker, cover the top with aluminum foil and fit a lid over the pot tightly. Let it sit on the “Warm” setting for two weeks, and in the end you will have a head of black garlic, pictured above. You can also blacken garlic in a rice cooker or Instant Pot. After you have a head of black garlic, you can pull apart the cloves as you would with any normal head of garlic.
One of my favorite things to do with black garlic is to chop it or grind it in a food processor, and then add it to melted butter on the stovetop. As it cools, you can form the butter into logs. It is wonderful for sauteeing meats and vegetables. Here are some other suggestions of what you can do with black garlic.
So now that you know how to prepare garlic at home, what are you going to make with it? Let me know of your favorite recipe for using garlic in the comments below! Bonus points if it’s a tried and true recipe for banishing the sniffles.