10 Things You Didn’t Know About…Cooking with Garlic
There used to be this Middle Eastern restaurant near my house with a giant paper-mache head of garlic in the window beneath a sign proclaiming, “Garlic Is King!” I never went in (mostly because the big garlic looked about as appetizing a plaster cast).
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate garlic; I just don’t love it enough to elevate it to the status of royalty. Like most people, though, I often don’t really think about the subtle dimension of flavor that garlic imparts to what I would venture to guess is about every other dinner we eat, from rich Italian pasta sauces to Asian-influenced stir-fries.
But if you’re in any doubt about the bewitching power of garlic, might I suggest giving it a good roast? (See step #3 of this recipe for how to do that.) If ever you’ve taken the lowly garlic clove for granted, the sweet, earthy flavor of roasted garlic will no doubt remind you of just how good garlic can be. Add it to vinaigrettes, used it in marinades, or simply smear it on thick toasts for a simple appetizer.
Garlic loses some of its flavor if it’s refrigerated. Keep it in a cool, dry place, like the bottom of a cupboard or pantry. Garlic keepers are cute but not necessary (though they will ensure that air circulates around your garlic).
Fresh-cut garlic becomes more bitter the longer it’s exposed to air; its flavor can change in just 15–20 minutes. So it’s best to chop it right before you’re going to use it.
Hate peeling garlic? If you’ve just got a clove or two, try pressing them firmly (but still gently) with the flat side of your knife to loosen the skin. If you’ve got a bunch of cloves to peel, it’s worth bringing an inch or two of water to boil and dropping them in for a few seconds. The skins should more or less slip off.
Chopping your garlic with a pinch of salt helps to keep it from sticking to your knife.
Before you chop, dice or mince garlic (whichever your recipes calls for), slice the clove in half lengthwise first. If you notice a bright green sprout in the middle, scrape it out with the tip of your knife and discard it. It can impart an unwelcome bitterness.
So what’s the deal with garlic breath? According to food science writer Harold McGee, there appear to be two distinct components that contribute to garlic-induced halitosis. The first occurs almost immediately after dinner, when compounds in the garlic react in your mouth to produce a chemical related to (get ready for it)…skunk spray. The second occurs as you digest the garlic, peaking 6–18 hours after you’ve eaten, when another set of odiferous chemical compounds are produced that circulate through the body, including the lungs, when they’re exhaled.
As far as the first factor is concerned, you can try eating raw fruits or vegetables after you’ve eaten garlic — the browning enzymes in things like apples, green salad or parsley appear to counteract what’s going on in your mouth. But in terms of the second, there’s no real way to fight the garlic breath that’s essentially pulsing through your veins … except not to eat garlic in the first place.
However, the health benefits of garlic might be worth the stink. Recent studies show that a diet that includes a lot of garlic (the equivalent of two medium-sized cloves per day) helps protect against a variety of cancers and also contributes to a healthier heart.
Whether garlic, in fact, repels vampires is still the subject of much debate. However, in 1994, a group of Norwegian scientists tested the repellant potential of garlic on another group of bloodsuckers — leeches. The result? Leeches were twice as likely to attach themselves to a hand smeared with garlic as they were to a clean hand. “This study indicates that garlic possibly attracts vampires,” the authors concluded, adding (jokingly, we hope). “Therefore … restrictions on the use of garlic should be considered.”
Are you in the know? From boiling an egg to cooking rice, check out all our “things you didn’t know” articles!