12 September 2007

Garlic

On my entry where I discussed the basics of bringing together a quick and easy dish, I posted some pictures of the food while it was cooking. JonBen asked about garlic in particular.

Why was the garlic whole?
First and foremost, it's important to understand the different levels of flavour that garlic can give. When it's whole, or just loosely crushed (but still mostly whole), you're going to get a very gentle gradation of garlic that permeates the dish, but never stands out in the dish. What I want when I leave the cloves whole is a dish that is OK for people who don’t care for garlic per se, but can tolerate it in their food, as long as it is not the main flavour component. Who hates garlic? Well, I know one of Steve’s aunts refuses to touch the stuff, but doesn't mind it if she can't taste it. I made a spinach dish for Steve and the rest of the people who had come over, but I did not want to exclude anyone from at least trying all the dishes. I left the garlic cloves whole, but put in a lot of garlic! This way, when the aunt tasted some, I served her a portion that didn't have the cloves of garlic. For everyone else, who loves the stuff, they still had whole roasted cloves of garlic in the dish now that they could eat and enjoy.

That's the other thing to note about whole garlic: the flavour of the garlic clove itself is mild, as long as you slow cook it (which is pretty much the only application where I would use whole garlic), or flash fry it in oil (which is how I get the recipes started in any case, where you start with the oil, move on to the spices, then the aromatics—garlic is an aromatic) and then quick cook whatever vegetables you want to eat that night. It is definitely worth a try if you like garlic. I encourage you to give the whole cloves a try. Just do not be afraid, and stop at one clove. Go nuts, and throw in lots and lots of cloves. If the dish is too strongly garlicky for you, you can always remove the whole cloves, and everything gets mild again.

When should it be added?
This will depend solely on what it is you're making. Let’s say that you are in the process of making a barely wilted spinach dish, and you want a very strong kick in the back side of garlic. Mince up the garlic as finely as you can, and add it in with the spinach. Suppose you get a call from your best friend that her new date is coming with her, and she would like to be able to have a little kissing after the dinner is over. No worries! Go back to the kitchen, and put the garlicky spinach in the fridge for yourself for later, when nobody else is around, and there to complain about your foul breath. Then, go ahead and peel up two or three cloves of garlic. In the skillet, start off with your spices.

Once they're popped, throw the whole cloves of garlic into the skillet. Quickly sauté it around in there until they're a toasty brown on the outside. Once that's done, throw in your spinach, and wilt it down. Throw in a pinch of nutmeg (because as we all remember from the book, a pinch of nutmeg makes spinach taste divine), and boil up some pasta really quickly (I would use farfalle). When your friends arrive, toss the pasta with the spinach, and set out some good crusty bread and a bottle of wine. When you serve your friends, quietly scooch the cloves of garlic over to the side, and serve them away from it. Then, when you serve yourself, throw it down onto your own plate, and have a ball! Everyone can walk away happy.

If the dish is going to be a dressing, add it in before you add in the oil or vinegar or whichever liquid you use to make your salad dressing. When you grind a dressing in a blender, the garlic pieces tend to stick to the sides. The liquids that you pour down the sides will help wash the garlic down towards the blades where they can get properly chopped up. If you are making a hummus, I have specific instructions on how to handle the garlic in the book, but the general rule is that you want to add it early on to give it a chance to grind down properly.

Thanks for the great question, John. I will be sure to look you all up if Steve and I are ever in Vancouver!