While there’s certainly such a thing as “too much garlic,” it really does take a lot of garlic to get there. Garlic is one of those ingredients that needs no measurements, where you should never follow the suggested amount, and instead follow your heart. It adds depth and complexity to practically any savory dish, and while you might not always notice garlic’s presence, you will always notice its absence. It’s become a staple ingredient in cuisines on every continent, including Antarctica. It’s got a myriad of health benefits, too, but none of us really need an excuse to rationalize going crazy with the garlic, now do we.
Depending on the variety, a single bulb of garlic contains upwards of a dozen individual cloves of various sizes, from large fat ones on the outside, and small flat ones closer to the core. The entire head is covered with a papery skin which, when fresh, is taught, unbroken, and will not flake apart when rubbed between your hands. As garlic ages its skin will begin to break and fall away, so keep that in mind when shopping to make sure the bulbs you bring home will last. Additionally, old heads of garlic will begin sprouting green shoots from its cloves, which are fine for planting in the garden, but not so much for eating. If the garlic you have in your kitchen has sprouted, there’s no need to throw it out, but you should remove the sprouts by cutting each clove in half and plucking them out.
It adds depth and complexity to practically any savory dish, and while you might not always notice garlic’s presence, you will always notice its absence.
Use the raw power of your hands to break the bulb apart instead of peeling it, as the more you keep the bulb intact, the longer its shelf life will be. If you find yourself struggling, peel off a few layers of the outer skin, stopping as soon as you can easily pull a few cloves away from the attached root.
The individual cloves are also wrapped in their own papery skin, and again, when fresh, they stubbornly cling to the garlic and are difficult to remove with your fingers. If you intend to use the cloves unbroken and unblemished, carefully use a sharp paring knife to trim off tiny slices from the top and bottom, then make a delicate perpendicular cut and slip the papery wrapping off like a jacket. Preparing garlic this way is good for pickling or making whole roasted cloves, but if you’re looking to impart any serious garlic flavor into what, you’ll need to, at the very least, crush it.
When garlic is crushed, diced, minced, grated, pulverized or broken down in any way, its cells release a an enzyme called alliinase which, when exposed to oxygen, catalyzes the formation of a sulfur compound called allicin. Allicin is what gives garlic its signature flavor, and the more you break up the garlic, the more potent it will taste. If you’re looking for a gentle garlic flavor, like in salad dressings or gravies, lightly crush your garlic to keep the allicin to a minimum. If you want your dish to taste ultra-garlicky, grate the cloves with a microplane to turn into an intensely flavored paste. Chopping, mincing, and slicing create flavors in between, so use that knowledge to control the flavor of whatever dish you’re preparing.
Allicin is what gives garlic its signature flavor, and the more you break up the garlic, the more potent it will taste.
Another benefit to crushing: it’s the best, easiest way to peel garlic, as once it’s been given a few thwacks, the papery skin will peel right off to be discarded. Use the flat side of a chef’s knife to do this, positioning the clove close to the handle, where the blade is strongest and has the most surface area. Place the heel of your hand on top of the knife and firmly press down until you can feel the garlic cloves pop. Be sure to do this on a cutting board or other surface where the garlic will not slip around, and keep the blade of the knife pointed away from you for safety purposes.
To chop or mince garlic, gather your crushed, peeled cloves together in a pile. Hold the handle of your chef’s knife firmly with your dominant hand, place the palm of your other hand on the back of the blade, and begin rocking the knife back and forth over the garlic until it’s cut to your liking.
To slice your garlic into thin pieces, start by crushing it lightly—just enough to make the skin easily peel off. Hold the clove against the cutting board with your fingertips curled down, then slowly and carefully glide your thinnest knife through it. When slicing, speed is not as important as accuracy, so take your time.