Garlic is one of nature’s best gifts to the kitchen. Spicing up dishes that would have been too bland otherwise, there’s nothing the versatile ingredient cannot do – and who doesn’t love garlic bread?
But for us common folk not well-versed in professional cooking methods, preparing garlic is slow and often cumbersome.
We peel the tiny cloves one by one with our fingernails, which is not only time-consuming but also unhygienic. We chop it too coarsely or unevenly for recipes that require thinly sliced garlic. Or we get lazy and buy garlic paste from the supermarkets, an inferior replacement for the real thing, filled with preservatives and sub-par flavour.
Thanks to some sage advice from the pros, home chefs can brush up their knife skills and learn to cut garlic the right way, to bring out the best of its flavours.
What’s wrong with the way I do it?
Different recipes require different styles of garlic prep. For example, soups, sauces and stews require minced garlic, as the latter’s flavour is most potent and you want the garlic to be incorporated well. Furthermore, it is also unsightly to have stray bits of garlic floating around in your soup. Sliced garlic goes well with sauté dishes and stir-fries.
Anyone can chop garlic, but to do it well delivers uniform results. Each piece should be about the same size, to prevent burning and to ensure consistent flavouring. Preparing it as quickly as possible means using the garlic at its freshest – taking too long with garlic prep turns out bitter-tasting garlic, due to oxidisation. A sharp knife will help, but be careful not to hurt yourself.
Peeling, slicing and mincing garlic correctly
Now, let’s break the garlic prep process down to simple steps. First, press down on the bulb of garlic hard with the heel of your hand to loosen the cloves. Pull out the required number of cloves from the bulb of garlic.
- Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver recommends pressing the garlic gently to remove the skins while retaining the shape of the garlic for slicing or chopping. Place a chef’s knife (not a small paring knife or a large heavy cleaver) flat on the clove of garlic, on the cutting board. Use some pressure to crack it open by pressing on it with the heel of your hand. With the clove’s insides exposed, pull away and dispose of the skin.
- Don’t use too much force as you may end up flattening the garlic too much and end up with something too flat for slicing or chopping.
- Hold the clove with your thumb on the root and your index and middle fingers on the middle of the clove.
Using a sharp chef’s knife, slice the clove with the widest part of the blade (the middle) with a steady rocking motion. Holding the top of the knife with your index finger and thumb on either side of the blade, with the rest of your fingers resting on the handle, will keep the movement steady. Confused? the experts at renowned culinary school Le Cordon Bleu demonstrate the proper way of holding and using a knife.
The quick way of chopping garlic involves pressing the tip of the knife down and rocking the blade back and forth while chopping. The professional method involves a few more steps, but it produces evenly-sized pieces. It is also a much slower process, so do this only when cutting a few cloves.
- Hold the clove with the thumb on the back of the garlic and the middle and index finger. Using a small paring knife, slice thinly lengthwise but leave a small portion intact at the back of the clove.
- Hold the garlic gently with your fingers on the clove and using the paring knife, slice horizontally midway through the clove. Then slice through the slices vertically for evenly-sized minced garlic.
You can use a chef’s knife for this method, but with the knife tip for slicing. Jamie Oliver demonstrates this method in this video.
Don’t burn the garlic!
One of the most common mistakes when it comes to cooking garlic is burning it. And it happens more often than even the most seasoned home chefs will admit to.
Garlic burns very easily and burnt garlic pretty much ruins any dish. It is a myth that garlic has to be added early in the cooking process. You can add garlic midway through cooking. Sautéed greens do better with garlic added halfway. You should add the garlic to mushroom stir-fries when the mushrooms are nearly cooked.
If you are adding garlic at the start of cooking, don’t add the garlic into cooking oil that is too hot. Let the pan cool slightly before adding the garlic and stir it frequently.
How to store garlic
Garlic tastes best when it is fresh. It turns bitter when it has sprouted, and garlic tends to do this in humid conditions. Humidity also accelerates moulding.
Garlic lasts longer when kept in bulbs, so use only what you need. It prefers dry conditions away from bright light, so store them in a cool, dry place, in a mesh basket. That way, your garlic can be kept fresh for months. You can also hang whole bulbs up.
Minced garlic can be kept in the refrigerator, but use it as soon as possible. The sulphur content that gives garlic its distinctive taste will fade, even at low temperatures.