Flash in the Pan

The triple nature of garlic


I still have a lot of garlic from last year’s harvest. To make sure I get through it all before the new crop comes in, I’ve increased my consumption. Thanks to this project, I’ve been cooking garlic as if it’s a vegetable, rather than a spice.

Given that garlic is a plant but not a fruit or a nut, it’s not wrong to call it a vegetable. It’s also an herb, believe it or not. We normally think of herbs as leafy and green, but garlic grows underground with no exposure to sunlight, so its cells do not make chlorophyll. However, the white, fleshy part that we eat is a modified leaf, while the plant’s root and stem are confined to the scabby thing on the bottom of the clove. The center of that structure is the stem, and the bulbous ring around it is a set of baby roots. 

In addition to its multiple taxonomic classifications, garlic can have several personalities in a meal, depending on how much heat it absorbs. When cooked long enough, it loses its spice and develops a resiny sweetness, while the food it’s cooked with gains a more-savory flavor. If you overcook it, it becomes bitter, so don’t do that. When added raw, it imparts a lively spice. Thanks to all of these possible flavors, many add garlic more than once to a meal, with whole cloves or large chunks going in early for savory sweetness and minced garlic going in at the very end for a feisty hint of pizazz. Using it multiple ways is a technique perfectly suited to my agenda of expedited consumption.

One of my favorite ways to add garlic more than once is to pasta. Any sauce you could imagine serving over pasta — be it marinara, clam sauce or carbonara — benefits from being cooked with garlic. I also add minced raw garlic, along with olive oil and perhaps grated cheese, to the hot, freshly cooked noodles and toss it all together before I add the sauce. This is my standard procedure, even when I’m not trying to eat through my stash at an accelerated clip. It’s just sound flavor management.

Another way I like to use garlic more than once is in a simple, Asian-style rice dish. I start by cooking a pot of rice, adding some whole garlic cloves when the rice is about half cooked. The cloves steam atop the rice and get deliciously soft. When the rice is done, I toss it with freshly pressed or minced raw garlic and equal parts soy sauce and sesame oil. The hot rice cooks the raw garlic enough to blunt its edge, similar to what happens with the hot pasta, but it still retains plenty of firepower. Just remember when adding raw garlic that it will linger on your breath a lot longer than if it were cooked, so check your calendar and use your judgment.

Another recipe in my enhanced garlic routine is oven-poached cloves in olive oil with potatoes and meat. I use deer meat, but it’s a recipe that I’ve adapted from one for olive oil-poached fish. You can use the protein of your choice.



Oven-poached garlic with choice of protein

You can also use fish for this recipe. If doing so, reduce the heat to 275 degrees before adding the fish and cook until it’s flaky (about 25 minutes).

Serves two

1 cup olive oil

3 medium-sized potatoes, sliced to a ½-inch thickness

1 sprig of fresh thyme (or a tablespoon dried)

2 bay leaves

½ teaspoon salt

12 large cloves of garlic

½ pound of tender red meat, sliced to a ½-inch thickness

Set the oven to 350 degrees and pour the oil into a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Lay the potato slices in the oil; their bulk should raise the oil level above them. If not, add more oil to cover them. Add the thyme, bay leaves and salt, and put the skillet in the oven.

When the potatoes start to soften (about 20 minutes), add the whole garlic cloves. If you add them too soon, they’ll turn bitter. As soon as you add the garlic, the air will fill with an irresistible aroma. After about 15 minutes of this olfactory torture, add the meat.

The meat should take about 15 minutes to cook. You can track progress with a meat thermometer or by cutting it with a knife and checking the color. When it’s done, remove the contents with a slotted spoon, holding it above the pan so the excess oil can drip back in. Serve the garlic-infused, oil-poached meal on a plate next to a slice of buttered bread. As you eat, smear the soft, sweet cloves of garlic onto the bread.


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