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Food & Drink » Chow

The Stinking Rose: Unlocking the power of garlic

Garlic is the perfect ingredient to increase the flavor in your food, but can be a challenge to cook with.


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Garlic was my first love of the kitchen, and totally changed the way I looked at food forever after. I was 12 years old, and my mom's friend was cooking dinner. He was a "real Italian, from New York," and on the menu that night was linguini and clams, with garlic bread. As he went about the kitchen, creating magic, my task was peeling and chopping the garlic. I was instantly hooked. Thirty years later, with over half of those years spent in kitchens all over the country, I am still hooked.

Whether you call it ail or aglio, czosnek or bawang, knoblauch or even allium sativum, the stinking rose of the kitchen is a culinary superstar. The Egyptians revered it, and samples of it have been found in pharaohs' tombs. All throughout the Mediterranean, garlic's influence is well known and chronicled heavily. Garlic, along with onions, leeks and shallots, is part of the allium family; which, in turn, is part of the lily family. So, simply put, garlic is a lily. Cultivated for over 6,000 years, with its origins in Central Asia, garlic has played an interesting role in civilization.

Garlic's appeal comes from its versatility. We are all familiar with garlic as a culinary ingredient. Its flavor, aroma, and deliciousness have endeared it to chefs for eons. Did you know that garlic has a number of health benefits as well? It has been used for everything from protection against the plague in the Middle Ages, to treatment for certain types of cancer, to a blood thinner as a prevention for heart attack or stroke. It has served as a replacement for antibiotics on wounds, an acne treatment and even an aphrodisiac. For hundreds of years, garlic wasn't used much in the kitchen. It was used as adhesive though, and still is. In China, where over three quarters of the world's garlic crop is grown, the sticky liquid that comes out of the cloves is used as glue for glass and porcelain. Our interest in this blessing of a bulb lies in its culinary applications.

Cooking garlic can be tricky. When cooking over high heat, many people add garlic at the wrong time. Due to some seriously high sugar levels, garlic burns quickly. When it does, bitter and acrid is all you taste. So, be sure to pay close attention and watch the heat. In most cases, add chopped garlic at, or near, the end of cooking. Slow and low works best, as it allows this tasty little lily the time to dissolve rather than sizzle and burn.

Garlic loses its famed strength as it cooks. So, if you are planning to cook it for a long time, a simple smash of the cloves is all that's necessary to get the most out of it. Another method for cooking with garlic is called layering. Adding garlic at different stages in the cooking will produce a deeper, sweeter flavor. The first recipe I ever learned was for garlic bread, and it's a great example of layering at work. Warming the bread before adding the garlic opens everything up and allows the goodness to permeate every nook and cranny. Spoon solids over bread first to ensure even distribution and then add liquid as desired. Its guaranteed that the top half of the loaf is going to be much thicker than the bottom, so placing the foil-wrapped loaf into the oven upside-down will ensure that you won't have soggy bottoms and dry tops. There's quite a bit of garlic in there, but with the layers of flavor, you won't mind. Enjoy with some pasta, wine and loved ones.

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