One of my favourite things to read about is ingredients - what they’re made of, how to use them etc. and so I have decided to include a new feature which will go into detail about a select ingredient. Starting with the basics here and potentially my favourite ingredient (as some regulars in my cooking classes will be able to testify to) - let’s talk about garlic.
What is it
It seems obvious but it is worth stating - garlic is a vegetable. It is a member of the allium family along with onions and shallots. However, in cooking it is used as an aromatic and therefore is treated more like a herb or spice. You don’t throw whole garlic bulbs in dishes (well, only on special occasions), it tends to be used sparingly due to how potent the flavour is.
What does it taste like
This is a bit of a challenge to describe because it changes depending on how it is cooked. When raw, garlic is bitter and sulphurous but when cooked, it becomes sweeter and nuttier. The way it is cooked can greatly affect the way it tastes. Used in the right way, garlic will highlight and bring out the flavour of other ingredients within a dish, enhancing the end product without necessarily tasting of garlic.
Middle Asia is about as accurate as this can be pinned down to - the exact origin is somewhat disputed but it is now grown worldwide and is readily accessible.
Different ways to cook with it
The most important thing to understand when cooking with garlic is how the flavour is derived. Garlic contains a chemical called allicin which is responsible for the taste. The more the garlic is broken up, the more of this chemical is released, causing a stronger flavour.
Whole: For a mild garlicky taste, use whole cloves that have not been chopped up in any way - this will impart a subtle garlic flavour. Add a couple of whole cloves of garlic into your oil or butter when pan frying a steak for a mild garlic flavour.
Minced: Mincing with a garlic press of finely chopping will give you a more pungent flavour throughout but shouldn't be overwhelming. This is probably the most common way of using garlic - used when cooking pots of food like curry, bolognaise, chilli etc.
Paste: In order to really amp up the flavour, pulverising garlic in a pestle and mortar or in a food processor will give you the strongest garlic flavour. This is how you can get a really strong garlic flavour into aioli using minimal garlic cloves.
There are many different ways of using garlic in cooking but they all work off this basic principle; for example black garlic gives you a more subtle flavour as the whole cloves are used and have been aged; removing some of the allicin.
100 Garlic Clove Curry
I joked before about the lengths I would go to for this newsletter but I think this one really does prove my dedication (to both this newsletter and to garlic).
Yes I really did peel 100 cloves of garlic for this.
The reason this curry works and isn’t overwhelmingly garlicky is because the cloves remain whole throughout the cooking process. They are cooked down until soft but not falling apart. As crazy as it sounds, this is not the most garlicky tasting curry I have eaten - the Chilli Garlic chicken that I made a couple of weeks ago definitely takes the trophy there. Of course the garlic was evident, but what I noticed when eating it was the taste of the more subtle ingredients used - turmeric and mustard seeds took the mainstage. I’ll be honest - I didn’t love the curry and you could not make me make it again but creating this dish really reinforced for me how much heavy lifting garlic does in other dishes to bring out flavour!