Garlic is a superstar ingredient that gives us a nutritional punch and adds wonderful flavour to many recipes. As an allium, it’s in the same family as onions, chives, shallots and leeks. Cultivated for the distinct flavour of its bulb, it’s also powerhouse ingredient in the kitchen.
What to buy
As garlic is available year round, there isn’t a distinct season when it looks its best. When shopping, choose plump, firm bulbs with tight cloves. Bulbs that appear drier, where the skin easily falls off, are likely old. If you slice open your garlic clove and notice that there is a green stem inside, this indicates that your garlic is sprouting and past its prime. Some find this green stem to be bitter and pungent, but it’s still okay to use the clove — simply remove the green stem prior to cooking. In the spring and summer months, you can look for locally grown garlic at your farmers’ market. This variety is usually much firmer and tends to be slightly milder in flavour.
When garlic is chopped, the release of sugars and oils can make for a sticky exterior, and this sometimes makes it difficult to work with. If you don’t like handling garlic, a garlic press is an excellent solution; they’re a little more work to clean, but they quickly produce evenly minced garlic.
Watch: Three ways peel garlic
Dos: How to cook with garlic
1. Roast. Roasting garlic is one of the most delicious ways to enjoy it. This process mellows the pungency of the bulb and releases the sugars, giving it a rich caramel flavour. For the ultimate in roasted garlic try our chicken with roasted garlic. Garlic can also be roasted whole. To do so, slice off the top of the head of garlic and drizzle it with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and wrap with foil. Bake at 350F for approximately 40 min. Once the roasted garlic has cooled, simply squeeze the bottom of the head of garlic and the roasted cloves will pop out.
2. Eat it raw. Many people are afraid of raw garlic due to the fact it’s often overdone in recipes. However, with the right balance of acidity and seasonings, the addition of raw garlic can be fragrant and pleasant, such as in our homemade salsa verde.
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Dont’s: How not to cook with garlic
1. Burn it. Burnt garlic has a very distinct, bitter and unpleasant taste. To prevent burning your garlic when cooking in a frying pan, always add it toward the end of your process. Garlic can act as a great addition to a grilling marinade, but since it burns easily (especially on the grill), it’s best to use whole crushed cloves when mixing your marinade, removing them before you start grilling.
2. Overuse it. While many of us enjoy garlic, it’s also an ingredient that is often overused. Some say that if you can taste it, there’s too much in the recipe. While I disagree with this, garlic should be used wisely as too much overwhelms the dish, masking the other flavours.
And one more thing:
Is your ivory-coloured garlic is suddenly a blue-green colour? When garlic is minced in its raw form and comes into contact with an acid (lemon juice, vinegar), the acid begins to break down the garlic, changing its composition. This alteration creates a reaction with garlic’s amino acids and a blue-green colour results. (This colour change is harmless, except to the appearance of your dish.)
Originally published January 2012. Updated September 2017.