When we make dinner, we put garlic in everything. That’s no accident. European, Mediterranean, and Asian cuisines all have used the alium bulb to season food for millennia, in dishes from Merguez-Style Brochettes to Beef Pad See Ew. Yet recipes include garlic for different reasons. Raw garlic adds spiciness; gently cooked garlic becomes fragrant, developing flavors in the dish; roasted garlic becomes sweet and melt-in-your-mouth tender. Here’s a primer for how to prepare garlic for each of these purposes.
Vampires beware: raw garlic adds extraordinary flavor and a little bit of bite to salad dressings, so our vinaigrettes often feature it. Likewise, guacamole would simply taste hollow without raw garlic stirred in. But we’re not talking about chomping on uncooked whole cloves here. To make garlic spicy, not overwhelming, we start by mincing each clove, then keep chopping until the cloves resemble a paste. Sprinkling some coarse salt over the garlic as you chop helps speed along the process.
When we sauté garlic, we mince it so that lots of surface area is exposed to the hot pan–but none of the sugars are released (they would burn when cooking). That means slicing crosswise, then making perpendicular cuts to form strips of garlic, then, finally, cutting crosswise again into tiny squares. We usually add onion and garlic to to the pan at the same time, cooking in olive oil for a couple of minutes, until the vegetables are fragrant and softened. In our Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Meatballs, our garlic cloves do double duty, adding savoriness to both the meatballs (which cook up in the oven) and to our authentically Italian tomato sauce.
Roasted Garlic: Sweet.
The oven’s heat turns garlic soft and sweet. By tucking roughly chopped garlic into our foil packet with leeks and potatoes in our Haddock with Melted Leeks and Fingerlings, we make sure that none of the garlic gets too brown–which can turn it sticky and bitter. Keep in mind that you can treat yourself to roasted garlic anytime you’ve got the oven on. Drizzle olive oil on an entire head of garlic, halved horizontally, or toss a few skin-on cloves onto the baking sheet beside with whatever other food you’re roasting.
Garlic, Be Gone.
The odor of garlic can linger on your fingers for the rest of the evening after you’ve chopped it unless you know this trick for de-scenting. Here’s what you do: rub lemon or another citrus fruit on your hands to de-scent them of garlic after chopping. This works particularly well if your dish just so happens to have orange or lime in it, in which case prep the garlic first, then prepare the citrus and vanquish the garlicky odors once and for all.