There are all sorts of skills that recipe books simply assume that you already have: preparing raw garlic is one of them. Despite the appearances, this isn't an attempt by the cookbook people to make you feel stupid - they truthfully do believe that we're all born knowing such things. For those of you out there who weren't born with innate knowledge of garlic procedures, here's an overview.
When you buy raw garlic at the store, it looks rather like a misshapen onion with a stalk on top. First, let's begin with some garlic terminology - different people can mean different things when they say 'bulb' or 'clove', so let's start with some common ground:
- Bulb - this is the whole thing, including the stalk; sometimes it can be referred to as a 'head' of garlic or a 'bulb head'.
- Clove - a number of these crescents can be found inside each bulb1.
- Skin - Each individual clove is wrapped in a white papery skin, and in turn so is each bulb. The texture of the skin changes as you reach closer to the individual cloves, becoming less dry and papery2.
The parts of the garlic used most often in cooking are the cloves, which are hidden underneath all that white papery stuff.
Garlic can be rather messy, so it is recommended that you work over the sink, or a bowl, or some other contrivance that will capture the skin as you slough it off. This is especially vital if your kitchen has a rug, as the papery bits can be murder to clean from it.
Regardless of the garlic peeling method you choose, the first step is to break the bulb apart into the unpeeled cloves. The easiest method is to slam the bulb, stalk down, onto a hard and flat surface - it will split apart and release the cloves. Alternatively, you can grab the bulb in one hand and the stalk in another, and pull until the bulb breaks open.
In any case, you should now have a number of unpeeled cloves, and the next step is to peel them - you can do this by hand, or use specially made utensils. Peeling garlic isn't anything like peeling a potato.
Peeling Garlic by Hand
The easiest way to peel garlic by hand is to chop off the two ends of the crescent; in most cases, the skin will fall off easily after this is done. If the skin doesn't come off easily, try twisting the clove between your fingers.
If you don't need to have a whole, intact clove, there is another method you can try. Place the clove on a cutting board and gently crush it with the flat blade of a knife. The skin should easily pull away from the meat of the clove.
On the other hand, if you want to tackle this entirely by hand, you can just start yanking off the skin; don't worry about going too roughly, the clove inside is much sturdier than the skin. If raw garlic is a new experience for you, be prepared that you may need to keep going for quite a bit before you get to the clove. You will know that you've reached the clove when there is no more papery skin left at all, and you have a smallish thing that smells like garlic but is still covered in a smooth skin.
Using Neat Gadgets and Utensils
Sometimes you just want to get your cloves peeled without all of the odour and mess involved in doing the job by hand. Other times, you've started out by hand, but just can't seem to get that final layer of skin off the clove. Either way, there are some nifty gadgets and utensils on the market that can give you a hand.
One such is the inexpensive silicone garlic peeler - they come in many shapes and sizes, but the most efficient seems to be a soft, short (10cm), rubbery tube that is tapered and flared in such a way as to make peeling garlic a snap.
- Take the unpeeled clove and insert it into the tube.
- Simply roll the tube back and forth on a flat, dry surface.
- Apply pressure as you roll - your hand should be able to feel the clove inside the tube.
- Periodically turn the tube vertically - the garlic will fall out, but the skin will stay stuck to the inside of the tube. If your garlic isn't entirely peeled yet, put it back in and keep rolling.
- When your garlic is completely peeled, you can rinse the tube out in warm water, and the papery bits come out quite easily.
A word to the wise - it may be preferable to use your silicone garlic peeler in private, as the motions involved have a tendency to appear rather blatantly sexual in nature.
Another gadget also known as a garlic peeler functions quite differently - the bulby bit is dropped into a cone-shaped basket, and plastic 'claws' tear away the papery skin when the two pieces of the peeler are pressed together. More complicated and expensive garlic utensils are also on the market, including gadgets that peel and press in one step.
A Few Words to the Wise
At this point you have your cloves peeled, but your hands will smell like garlic, and not in an enticing sort of way. Not only is the odour an issue, but you also want to avoid sticking your fingers into your eyes, nose, or anywhere else with mucous membranes until your hands have been thoroughly washed.
When it comes to the odour, washing with soap just doesn't seem to be sufficient to remove the scent. There are various products on the market designed for removing garlic and fish odours from your hands but mostly they just cover up the scent with a different one. However, some Researchers report success with rubbing their hands on something chrome or stainless steel, and others have found rubbing metal under cold water to do the trick.
Now that you have the garlic cloves all peeled, your recipe probably requires that the garlic be somehow made into smaller pieces - after all, the smaller the bits, the more garlic flavour is released. Those of us that didn't know any better have spent far too much time and frustration trying to chop garlic with a knife, but there really is an easier way - the garlic press.
Unfortunately, the garlic presses you buy in shops usually come without instructions, once again assuming some innate body of garlic-related knowledge. Most garlic presses have two handles - one handle is attached to a metal basket-shaped piece with holes in the bottom, and the other handle is attached to a heavier piece that looks like it would be good for pounding things. A swinging hinge connects the basket side and the pounding side - you can generally bring the pounding side to connect with both the inside and the outside of the basket.
Perhaps in part because of the free-swinging nature of the garlic press, it can be a bit confusing to know where, exactly, the garlic cloves are supposed to be put - after all, there are several potential surfaces to explore here. To make it easier for everyone, here are some simple instructions:
- Holding the press so that the basket is upright, put the garlic clove inside the basket.
- Bring the handle of the pounding-side towards the handle of the basket side - the garlic clove should now be sitting in the basket, with the pounding-side coming down on top of it.
- Holding the press over the dish you want the pressed garlic to go into, press the handles together - little tiny bits of garlic will squirt out of the holes in the basket.
- Keep pressing until you have the amount of garlic you need for your dish - you may need to insert another peeled clove.
- Now that your garlic is pressed, use it as quickly as possible - the strength diminishes relatively quickly with time.
- Inevitably, some of the tiny bits of garlic will become clogged in the basket holes - these can be brushed off into the dish, to make sure that you get every last bit of garlic you deserve.
- Some garlic presses have a pronged surface opposite the pounding side - if you swing the press in the opposite direction used to press the garlic, the prongs push into the holes of the basket from the outside, making it easier to clean the press.
Of course, there are plenty of complicated variations on the garlic press available today, including garlic presses that store peeled garlic cloves between uses or have different blade inserts to create various shapes from the garlic. Related gadgets include garlic mincers, garlic slicers, and garlic graters - they all serve the same basic purpose of turning peeled garlic cloves into tiny garlic bits ready for cooking.
More Refined Methods
The methods you use to prepare your garlic can have subtle effects on the taste, and many chefs prefer crushing or chopping garlic to pressing it. If you want to crush your garlic cloves, a mortar and pestle can be handy, but all sorts of utensils can be adapted for the job.
While pressing garlic isn't generally the method preferred by chefs, this entry is geared towards those who are just making their first forays into the world of raw garlic procedures. Some chefs prefer chopping, some crushing. All chefs seem to have their own special tips for working with garlic. One common tip is to cut the shoot out from inside the clove - the result is a sweeter tasting garlic, not to mention less garlic breath later on. The easiest way to do this is to slice the garlic in half, lengthwise - inside one or both of the halves, you should see a pale green or white stem3, which can be dug out with a fingernail or a knife.
If dealing with raw garlic still seems rather too much for you, there are always other options. You can buy jars of pressed, minced, or pureed garlic at the grocery store, and dried garlic powders and salts are also an option. In general, fresh garlic leaves a stronger taste than the kind from a jar, which is in turn stronger than the powdered kind.