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Cooking With Garlic

Cooking With Garlic  

No aroma in my kitchen makes me feel as content and inspired as does the smell of garlic. It may be gentle or pungent, depending on the method of cooking, but it is always a promise of good and healthy food and a meal of true delight. Still, even a great garlic dish can be ruined if the garlic is not cooked right. One of the mistakes most commonly made is cooking it at too high temperature. Garlic burns easily and turns bitter. True enough, fried, crispy garlic is used in several Asian cuisines, but then as a garnish, rarely in the food. Fried garlic is also a great appetizer drizzled with oil and scooped up with a piece of good bread. But much more often dishes with garlic call for different methods of preparation.

Sautéing is by far the most common and versatile method of cooking garlic, bringing out its nutty, savory taste and mellowing out the flavor. You need a heavy-bottomed pan or skillet that distributes the heat evenly. Heat oil or butter in the pan at moderate to medium heat and add the garlic - whether minced, diced or crushed - stirring constantly to avoid burning. When I cook dishes that calls for sautéing garlic at medium to high heat, I always cook other ingredients such as onions for a while first, and then add the garlic, watching the pan to make sure that the garlic does not burn. You should watch your pan especially closely if you cook with butter, for butter has a much lower burning point than oil.

Poaching is another way of preparing garlic. Although it is not as often used as sautéing, it is sometimes preferred because it leaves the cloves whole and also because the garlic taste can be much more delicate. Place the amount of cloves you need in a saucepan with water, wine or other cooking liquids and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the cloves. If you want to serve the cloves whole, for instance in a pasta sauce or marinated with herbs for an appetizer or condiment, you cook the cloves until they are tender, but still firm. Or if you plan to puree them you simply continue cooking the garlic until very soft. Poaching until soft mellows the taste considerably, but it offers you a different, gentle flavor that can be an attractive change for a garlic lover. When poaching, there is no need to peel the cloves, as the skin comes off very easily when the garlic is done.

Oven-roasting is a popular way of cooking garlic because it brings out the nutty flavor and adds an almost caramelized quality to the garlic. Many garlic lovers use a special baker, since it makes for a nice presentation of the dish, but tightly wrapped aluminum foil works just as well. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Rub the loose skin off a garlic bulb and cut the tips off each clove to expose the flesh, Place in baker or on aluminum foil and drizzle with oil. (You may skip the oil if you are really fat-conscious, although the oil helps bring out the mellow, roasted flavor.) Cover or wrap tightly and roast for about two hours or until the cloves are soft. OR preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and roast for about one hour or until the cloves are very soft. Personally I prefer roasting the garlic at the lower oven setting because this mellows and blends the flavors more, but this is definitely not the only way of doing it. I sometimes drizzle a little dry sherry as well as oil on the garlic before I bake it. The sherry flavor adds a subtle sweetness to the garlic without overpowering the natural flavors of the garlic.

You may also oven-roast garlic without covering it up. As with the first method, rub loose skin off the bulb and cut the tip off the cloves to expose the flesh. Place the bulb in a greased baking dish and fill with about 2 inches of water. Bake in preheated oven at 450 degrees F for about an hour or until the garlic is soft. This way of cooking garlic is really a mix between roasting and poaching, and gives you a much milder flavor than with the first method.

Roasted garlic is a delicious appetizer. Squeeze the pulp out of the cloves and spread on the bread of your liking or serve with bruschetta and/or tapenade. When I roast garlic, I usually make a big batch. What is not devoured right away, I mash and freeze in portion-sized plastic containers and/or bags. The energy you use for roasting one bulb, will just as well roast an ovenful, and you will have easy access to roasted garlic for flavoring and enhancing stews, soups, mashed potatoes and au gratins.

Roasting individual cloves is most often done when the garlic is part of a dish of roasted vegetables or used as a flavoring agent for all kinds of meat, poultry or fish. But you may also roast individual bulbs on their own. Put individual cloves in a greased roasting or baking pan and bake at 400 degrees F for about an hour or until the cloves are soft. Individual cloves can also be dry-roasted. Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet or pan, preferably cast-iron, over medium heat and add unpeeled garlic cloves. Roast the garlic for about 15 minutes or until soft to touch. Turn the cloves often to avoid burning. Cooking your garlic this way gives you a different garlic flavor than conventional roasting does; the garlic is much less sweet and have more of the original garlic flavor.

Frying garlic in oil gives you a crispy, nutty flavor that is well worth pursuing, but preparing it is tricky. Use a heavy-bottomed saucepan or other deep pan and heat oil until very hot, but not smoking. Add peeled garlic cloves and fry them until they start to turn medium brown. You have to watch them carefully, as they burn and turn bitter very easily once they start browning.

Grilling garlic is also an option and can be convenient when you have the grill going anyway. Grill whole heads, turning to expose all sides of the bulb to the heat, until the outer skin is dark brown and easy to remove and the flesh is soft. Use as you would roasted garlic, although the flavor will not be as mellow. You may want to add some salt and pepper to the pulp.

Rubbing a cut, raw clove of garlic around the sides of a pot or salad bowl or on a piece of bread gives you a hint of garlic flavor without overpowering other, gentle ingredients.

Equivalents: Not all recipes you may want to try use fresh garlic. Calling for garlic powder or salt, which are inferior products compared to the real thing, doesn't necessarily make the recipe bad. You may substitute a teaspoon of garlic powder in a recipe for a teaspoon of minced fresh garlic (about two cloves).

Garlic Odor on hands and breath has always been a problem for some. In the U.S. we suspect the Victorian era, when especially the middle and upper classes took pride in presenting an impermeable, prim and proper facade to the world and smelling of anything was a great offense, played a great role in the banishment of garlic. For garlic undeniably smells! It literally permeates your body if you eat enough of it - you breathe it and sweat it - and there is really no way to completely remove it. Although not everybody in the past was wimpy about garlic odor. Eleanor Roosevelt herself had three chocolate covered garlic cloves a day, and history says nothing about her breath and body odor repelling visiting heads of state and other dignitaries. Fortunately, perceptions have changed as people venture into new cuisines and cook and eat food for its goodness, not for its social propriety. Of course there are people who simply don't like the smell of garlic, but that is different from shying away from it for social reasons. It is really no different from inching away from a person wearing a perfume or aftershave that is disagreeable to you.

As for garlic smell on your hands you can avoid contact with the garlic by using a garlic peeler. Some rub their hands with salt, lemon or parsley. There are soaps that work well. For a long time we carried a coffee soap that worked really well, and we were sad when we lost our supplier. There are bar soap-shaped metal gadgets out there that will remove the garlic odor quite effectively. But more simply and less expensively, you can rub your hands on the back of a metal spoon. It works just as well.

As for garlic breath, some eat parsley or chlorophyll or alfalfa tablets. Some suck on a slice of lemon, some chew on anise seed, caraway or fennel seed. Keep in mind that cooked garlic leaves much less of an odor than raw, and some, who believe in the power of raw garlic, will cook the cloves for about ten seconds in the microwave and swallow the garlic like a pill. Personally we believe that the best way to deal with garlic odor is to feed garlic to everybody - then no one will notice a thing