Garlic Basics: Keeping it Tasty

by Jane Wangersky | April 3rd, 2015 | Cooking Basics

garlic bulbs (400x400)When garlic is done right, it makes your whole day better and enriches everything it touches. When it’s not handled so well, it can be a disaster. But you can steer clear of that if you read on and learn the right way to use it.

Of course you’ve got to start by buying the best garlic you can find (or grow it yourself, but that’s another topic). The USDA says you should look for bulbs that are clean, white — unless they’re the kind that are supposed to be purple, or pink — and “well cured”, meaning the neck and the outer skin is dry and paper-like. The cloves (the individual sections of the bulb) should feel firm. You can also buy peeled cloves to save time, but the USDA points out that they can get damaged in the peeling process and start to decay because of this.

Where to store it when you get the garlic home is a divisive issue. I keep mine in the fridge, in a paper bag to hold in the smell, but I’ve read that it keeps longer at room temperature. We can go with the USDA recommendation: cool and dry, whether in the fridge or out.

When getting it ready to cook, your recipe may tell you to mince the garlic — cut it into tiny pieces — or use a garlic press on it. Garlic presses are another divisive issue, but they let you crush a clove of garlic without even peeling it. And the less you let the garlic touch your skin, the less you’ll need to wash to get the smell off.

If you’re sautéing garlic, just let it go till it turns golden. This can take less than five minutes, so don’t add it to a frying pan till the other ingredients are almost done. It can burn quickly, and burned garlic has a horrible smell that infects the whole dish.

Roasting garlic turns it into something different, though still delicious. In the oven, it slowly grows soft and the flavor turns mild. You can spread it on bread or crackers. To roast garlic, slice the top off an entire bulb, spread a little oil on the cut part, wrap the bulb in foil, and put it in the oven at 350℉ for 30 to 40 minutes. When it’s done, you can squeeze it right out of the skins.

What about garlic powder? Well, it can be handy sometimes. But it doesn’t have the same taste as the fresh stuff.

There are a few precautions you have to take with garlic. Forget about eating it raw — the smell will cling to you for days. Raw or cooked, it can irritate the skin and upset the stomach. If it’s stored in oil, keep it in the fridge to keep botulism away.

Beyond that — enjoy it.

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