PREPARING AND STORING GARLIC
We often get questions regarding terms for preparing garlic that are used in recipes. Hopefully, the following will clarify each method of preparation.
Getting your Garlic
When you select your garlic, look for firm, plump bulbs with dry skin. Avoid garlic that has been stored in the refrigerated, moist section of the produce department and don't be fooled into buying the hard "bullets" that many stores sell, and that has been grown mainly for their long shelf life, not for quality. Instead, grow your own, go to your local farmer's market or talk your local grocer into carrying good quality garlic.
"Taking the Heart out of the Garlic"
No garlic lasts forever. But even after the inevitable sprout has started developing, the garlic is still good for cooking as long as you take the sprout out and discard it. "You take the heart out of the garlic," as some Italian cooks say. The sprout is perfectly edible, but bitter enough that you will taste it in your food.
There are many ways to remove the skin of a garlic clove. Personally, if I don't need to keep the clove whole and unblemished, I simply give it a good whack with the broad side of a kitchen knife and pick the garlic out of the split skin. Why? Because I find it easy and quick, I know that it brings together the healing ingredients of the garlic, and because I am convinced that this allows the garlic flavor to develop to its ultimate degree. Another method I use at times, is to cut the stem part off and pluck the skin off. This works especially well with hardnecks, since their skin comes off easily, and by doing it this way, you preserve the shape of the clove. If you need to peel a large batch of garlic, and don't need to keep the cloves in one piece, you can wrap the garlic in a kitchen towel and go at it with a heavy pan or a rolling pin. It works! You can also use the old-fashioned mortar and pestle method, crushing garlic cloves, skin on, until the skin comes off or to various degrees of pulp. But sometimes you need to preserve the shape of each clove. For this, a lot of people use an ingenious garlic peeler developed by the disabled Ben Omessi on a challenge from his wife. It is simply a rubber tube in which you place the garlic and roll back and forth until the skin comes off. It works on most cloves, except for some of the softnecks whose skin clings to the bulb when the garlic is very fresh. This method is good for people who don't like the smell of garlic on their hands. There are other garlic peeling devices on the market, but I haven't found them particularly useful. You can also soak the garlic in lukewarm water for about 1/2 hour. This helps loosen the skin, but you still will have to work at it. Another method is dropping the cloves into boiling water for about 30 seconds. The drawback with this method is that the cloves will be slightly cooked and lose some of their flavor. Some people put it in the microwave for about a minute and this, too, loosens the skin (and takes away some of its flavor). And then there is the compressed air method, where you place the cloves in an enclosed chamber and blast the skin off the garlic, while the cloves are left whole. Not a practical idea for the kitchen maybe, but if you have large amounts to peel, this is a good way to do it.
Mincing is the term used when you cut the garlic with a very sharp knife into the smallest pieces possible. Flatten a peeled clove with a broad kitchen knife and cut the garlic into tiny pieces. Many kitchen pros use the following method when mincing or chopping garlic: Make vertical cuts in a peeled clove - very close together for mincing, further apart for chopping - but don't cut the clove completely apart, leave the root part intact. Make similar horizontal cuts and then cut crosswise. If you think the pieces still aren't small enough, use your knife in a rocking or chopping motion to cut the garlic even more finely. It is the opinion of many cooks that cutting garlic with a knife as opposed to crushing or pressing, better preserves the nutty flavor of the garlic.
Cut a peeled clove into small pieces. A good method is described above under mincing. Finely chopped garlic is a little bit larger then minced garlic, and chopped or coarsely chopped garlic is larger. Some cooks prefer to sprinkle salt on the garlic while chopping or mincing it, as it brings out the juice and prevents garlic pieces from sticking to the knife. You may also use a food processor, pulsing until the garlic pieces have the desired size, or a blender/chopper. There are also other types of choppers available, but make sure that they can do what you need them to do before you go out and buy one. And you should be aware of that this coarse chopping also gives the garlic a stronger flavor. If you are a true garlic aficionado, you would explore the garlic flavor developed by the different methods of preparation and adjust your preparation according to the dish you are making.
Sometimes a recipe will call for diced garlic, which is garlic cut into 1/8" to 1/4 " pieces.
Crushed garlic has a stronger flavor than garlic prepared by other methods except pressing. You may crush the cloves with the broad side of a large kitchen knife, in a mortar, or, if you have a lot to crush, use a sturdy paper, plastic bag, towel or other material that will keep the garlic from flying all over, and crush it with a heavy pan. You may even use a rock! -any crusher at hand that serves the purpose and doesn't break anything except the garlic.
Peel the clove and place it, flattest side down, on a flat surface. Slice the clove thinly lengthwise with a very sharp knife.
Place the unpeeled clove in a garlic press and force the garlic through the holes in the press. A good press should easily take the skin off. Both the Swiss Susi brand (available through the Garlic Store) and the (more expensive) German Rösli brand are very good. We are sure that there are other good presses as well, but the ones mentioned here are the ones we know you will be satisfied with. There are lots of presses on the market that are less efficient, and you may have to peel the clove before you crush it.
You may use a grater to prepare your garlic. An oriental-style porcelain grater such as the type used for grating ginger works well. Alice Waters, one of the most influential cooks of our time and the woman that almost single-handedly brought the goodness of garlic to modern American cooking, grates garlic by rubbing a peeled clove back and forth against the tines on the backside of a large fork.
First a word of caution: NEVER allow garlic in oil to sit at room temperature. It is a hotbed for botulism. Keep it refrigerated or frozen at all times.
Fresh garlic kept in a dry, dark, cool place will keep for a long time. Some use special containers for storing garlic. A pretty garlic keeper in your kitchen is a cheerful decorating item, but garlic can also be kept in something as simple as a brown paper bag. Just never keep your garlic in your refrigerator. It will sprout and become bitter. If you don't use that much garlic and know that the bulb will be sitting there for a long time, it is better to freeze it or store it by one of the many methods described below.
There are lots of other ways to store garlic. What some people do in order to make them last is cutting them up into thin slices and then drying them. You can get food driers at places like K-Mart or Walmart. The sliced garlic can be reconstituted by adding them to a pot or casserole. You may also grind the dried slices into powder. Pureeing is another good method to preserve garlic and always have fresh garlic at hand. Puree in a blender or food processor and freeze. Personally, I prefer the garlic not as a puree, but in small pieces. Using a food processor, I simply pulse until the garlic pieces are the size I want, making sure that I don't place too much garlic in the processor at a time in order to avoid too great variation in the size of the pieces or the garlic turning to mush. Some then wrap the chopped garlic in small packets of plastic and freeze them. You can also add oil to the garlic mixture, 1 part garlic to 2 parts oil, and freeze it in a container or - as I prefer - in ice cube trays. That makes it easy to pop out the garlic you need. And our customer, Ted Fourkas, says: "Better yet, buy some small, 1 oz plastic containers--I find them at Smart and Final, which calls them soufflé cups--and freeze the pesto in those. No drying, no melting together. My wife has become addicted to this pesto (frozen without cheese, which is added later) in cups for use with pasta." (He talks about pesto, but this will definitely apply to garlic as well.) Some microwave unpeeled cloves for about 30 seconds and freeze them in plastic wrap or a freezer bag. Some freeze whole heads and tear off cloves as needed, but personally I find that this alters the flavor too much. I prefer storing peeled garlic cloves in oil and keeping them in the freezer, as freezing raw, unprotected garlic greatly changes its flavor and texture. If you prefer to keep your garlic in the refrigerator, submerge the garlic cloves in wine instead of oil. Dr. George York, University of California at Davis has provided this method for acidifying garlic in order to make it safe: Cover peeled garlic cloves with vinegar and soak the cloves for 12 to 24 hours. Drain off the vinegar. It may be reused as garlic-flavored vinegar. Cover the garlic cloves with oil. Refrigerate the garlic/oil and use within 3 months. You may also mix pureed or minced garlic with butter (about 5-6 cloves per stick of butter), shape the mixture into a log rolled in wax paper and freeze, tightly wrapped in plastic. You can then cut off pieces as needed to enhance a steak, drop it into a soup or sauce, or use for sautéing. Just make sure that you use it before the butter goes rancid.