Let’s Talk About Garlic
By: Chef Cristian Feher
Did you know that garlic is probably the common denominator in all of the world’s cuisines. I can’t think of a cuisine that doesn’t employ the aromatic use of garlic, can you? If we were representing planet Earth in an inter-galactic cooking competition, I think our showcase ingredient would have to be garlic – either garlic or MSG. But probably garlic.
I got very excited at the grocery store yesterday when I saw that Argentinian garlic is in! I wait all year for Argentinian garlic because it’s simply the best! In fact, I’m sure many of you, if you have ever got me talking about garlic, have heard me tell you all about how good Argentinian garlic is.
Here in the South-East, garlic usually comes from three places throughout the year: USA, Mexico, and Argentina. Thank God, we don’t get Chinese garlic anymore.. That stuff was nasty! It tasted like cough syrup. I don’t even want to know how the Chinese mass-produce garlic (I’m sure it involves the tiny hands of under-paid Chinese children, amongst other things). I’m just glad most places have stopped importing it.
So, what’s the big deal with Argentinian garlic, you may ask? Well, like everything else in Argentina, it’s grown old-fashioned and slow. Argentina is a very charming – and sometimes frustrating – place. I know, ’cause I’ve spent some time there. The Argentinian has this notion that if it ain’t broke, you don’t have to fix it. And you definitely don’t have to alter its DNA, pump it with growth hormones, or mass-produce it. What worked 100 years ago, still works today in Argentina.
They also take fabulously slow lunches, followed by mid-day coffee, and (get this) afternoon naps! Something Americans may only read about on their cell phones, in their cars, while running a red light on their way back to the office, after having devoured something made of sugar, fat, chemicals and food coloring, during their allotted 20-minute lunch break!
Argentinians take things slow. They place family and friends above work. In the long time it takes to grow good things, they build relationships, care for children, and develop their passions for things like tango, sublime food, and soccer (futbol). They stop, and smell the roses, then they talk about it, then they pass the rose around, someone will bring out a guitar and sing a song about the rose, while somebody else breaks out a picnic basket and lights up a grill. While this sounds like paradise to most, I have to admit that, as someone grown and raised in a big North American city, I sometimes found this super-annoying. “Really?” I would say to myself, “Do we really have to sing a song about this? I’ve got &$$% to do. Let’s slap this meat on the grill! I’ve gotta check my emails! I’m missing Facebook posts, people!!!”
It’s for this reason that Argentinian garlic is so pungent and flavorful. It’s for this reason that Argentinian food, in general, is off the charts quite literally in terms of flavor, nutrition, and quality. There are things that I have eaten in Argentina for which I have no words adequate to describe, except to say, “You have got to go there and eat this.”
So, do yourself a favor, go to the grocery store, and stock up on Argentinian garlic this month. It’ll make your cooking that much better.
That dirty little secret jar
Sometimes I’m cooking with people in their kitchen, and I go off on my rants about garlic. They always seem to get red-faced when they finally admit they have a little jar of minced, store-bought garlic in their fridge. It somehow finds its way out and is offered to me with some degree of shame – like they’re handing their stash of dirty magazines over to the Bishop.
Guys, you don’t have to feel bad about your little jar of garlic. It’s OK. I get it. It’s convenient. My only real issue with it is, when it’s made with Chinese garlic, it tastes like hospital anesthesia. And even when it’s made with California garlic, it’s still rendered funky by the preservatives they put in the jar. Dried garlic powder is actually better than jarred, if that’s all you can get.
I’m going to try to convince you to use fresh garlic! That’s my mission in this article (aside from helping you waste valuable work time).
How do I talk garlic?
Whether you want to impress an Italian girl you just met, or would like to communicate better in the world of food, here are some garlic semantics.
- A head of garlic is made up of several cloves of garlic
- That papery stuff that encases the garlic, is called the germ or sheath
- The hard thingy at the bottom of the head that holds it all together is the root
- That hard stuff at the bottom of each clove is also part of the root
- The little green thing that sometimes grows out of the clove is the sprout
And here are some facts you dish out to your friends next time you want to win a garlic debate.
- You store your garlic in a cool, dry and dark place. Your fridge will dehydrate them much too quickly. And any light will cause the cloves to sprout. Moisture will make mold grow on your garlic. In a mason jar, in a dark cupboard, with a little dry rice on the bottom of the jar, or a desiccant package is the best storage for garlic.
- The sprout is really hard to digest for some people, and should be removed from the clove before cooking if time allows.
- The hard root at the end of each clove gets soft when you cook it, so you don’t have to make yourself crazy trying to remove it from each clove.
- The smaller the clove, the more flavor (typically) is in the clove. So, that’s why elephant garlic sucks – it has no flavor.
- The smaller you cut the garlic, the more flavor will come out of it. You can control the level of garlic flavor in your recipe by leaving it whole, or mincing it into tiny pieces.
- Cooked garlic is really good (still white), roasted garlic is awesome (amber in color), burnt garlic is the worst (dark brown or black). This transformation happens very quickly!
- You can store garlic, minced, in a glass jar with vegetable oil in your fridge. But it will lose its flavor over time, and garlic is cheap! There’s no excuse not to buy fresh garlic every couple of weeks.
- I’ve never met a kitchen gadget that could take a garlic clove, crush it, peel it, and mince it faster than a chef knife and proper technique.
- Raw garlic is garlicky and spicy, cooked garlic is just garlicky.
- Garlic can be used as a natural anti-bacterial to treat wounds in emergency situations. Don’t travel farther than 50 miles from a drug store and you’ll never have to use this trick.
- They say that garlic wards off vampires. I believe this to be a rumor started by vampires in order to get their victims to pre-season themselves.
- I once stopped dating a pretty girl because her hair smelled, perpetually, like garlic. True story.
The last thing I wanted to write about was how to smash garlic to get it out of the sheath, but instead, I’d like you to watch this TV segment that I did a couple of years ago. This is a really fun way to peel a lot of garlic, fast.
I hope you had as much fun reading this article, as I had writing it. I really did have a lot to say about garlic! And I hope you find this useful in the kitchen. If you have a question or a comment, you can always email me at [email protected]