“It’s not really an exaggeration to say that peace and happiness begin, geographically, where garlic is used in cooking.” - Marcel Boulestin.
There are three things I can’t live without in my kitchen: garlic, olive oil and parsley. Of the three, garlic is perhaps my favourite, flavouring almost every dish I cook. I admit sometimes I just throw it in out of habit, but I always notice if it is not there. To my mind and style of cooking the absence of garlic is the ultimate sin of omission.
A member of the allium family (with relatives including leeks, onions and chives) garlic is claimed to keep the common cold at bay, not to mention vampires, demons and werewolves. Its use in folklore is perhaps attributable to its reputation a preventative medicine, championed for its antibiotic, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Native to central Asia, and dating back over 6000 years, garlic is a key ingredient in Asian, African and European diets. A staple in practically all Mediterranean kitchens, the distinctive flavour of garlic will be found in renowned dishes such as the Provencal aioli, the ubiquitous Italian pesto and Greek skordalia.
For those still unsure of the benefits of garlic, ponder Augustus Saint-Gauden’s musing: "what garlic is to food, insanity is to art."
Select and store –
When buying garlic, look for bulbs that have not sprouted and have firm cloves (when they become soft, they should be discarded). I avoid the overtly white garlic that is imported from China, as it can be bleached and lacks the flavour of fresh organic garlic. If in doubt, smell it, it should have a beautiful perfume. Store your garlic at room temperature in a dark spot with good air circulation.
Garlic loves – bread, seafood, tomatoes, parsley, lemon, chicken, basil, potatoes, butter, snails, mushrooms, spinach … in fact, practically everything!
Use the flat side of your knife to squash a garlic clove, this will make the peeling easier. To save chopping a squashed whole clove can be added to dishes that are slowly braised and then simply removed.
The high oil content in garlic makes it easy to burn, turning it bitter. Thus, I often add my chopped garlic to the frying pan after I have added first couple of ingredients. If you accidentally burn the garlic you are cooking in a frying pan with oil you can simply discard the garlic and retain the oil. The oil will have been flavoured by the garlic, without the offensive bitter, crunchy pieces.
Cooking with garlic –
Larousse Gastronomique, the French culinary bible, offers numerous uses for garlic.
Skinned, whole, raw cloves may be rubbed on bread or around the sides of a salad bowl or pan; chopped or crushed raw garlic is used to season raw vegetables, aioli, pesto, garlic butter and garlic puree; whole cooked cloves (sometimes with their skin, known as en chemise) are added to ragouts and braised dishes, roasts, soups (or simply popped out of its skin and smashed on toast); and finally peeled cloves are sliced or chopped for sautéed dishes.
To make a simple garlic bread, slice the garlic clove in half, grill some crunchy sourdough, rub the cut side of the clove over the toast three or four times (being raw it is quite pungent, don’t be tempted to go overboard) and then drizzle with olive oil.
Add a few whole heads of garlic in the tray with your next roast. The resulting soft garlicy cloves can be squeezed out and are mild, sweet and absolutely delicious alongside lamb or chicken.
The name aioli comes from the French word ail (garlic) and oli (dialect for oil). An emulsion of garlic, egg yolks and olive oil, it is also known as also known as aioli and is traditionally served with raw vegetables, poached fish or boiled eggs.
Work the 2 garlic cloves into a paste with a big pinch of salt. Beat together the egg yolks and the garlic until thick. Start to add olive oil in a thin stream very slowly, whisking continuously. Add a few drops of lemon juice and then some more oil. Continue beating, adding alternately more lemon juice and more oil until you have a think mayonnaise. Adjust the salt and add plenty of pepper. If you find the flavour of olive oil too intense, you can use half olive oil, half vegetable oil (or other flavourless oil).