How to Chop Garlic
Forget that jar of minced garlic that tastes like metal and is full of preservatives. Learn how to chop the real thing like a pro: It’s fast, it’s fun and it tastes so good.
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I first chopped garlic when I worked at a restaurant where we made Caesar salads tableside; it was the height of 90s culinary theater. But I’d never encountered a raw clove before that summer; my mother hated strong herbs and spices. She’d grudgingly add a 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder to her “spaghetti sauce” as she wrinkled her nose, and though I gobbled up my Italian aunt’s marinara I didn’t understand the lack of freshly chopped garlic was a prime reason most of my mom’s sauce got left on the plate. But that summer of Caesars I used two forks to mash cloves of garlic into the wooden bowl multiple times each night; by the time I returned to college my hands smelled like garlic 24/7. I wore the scent as a badge of honor — I was pretty sure I’d discovered an edible superpower.
Except that humanity has been enjoying garlic for at least 5,000 years (well, apart from my mom). This palate powerhouse from the allium family comes from wild species in Central Asia and the Mediterranean; ancient Egyptians used garlic in the mummification process and it’s been found as an offering in excavated tombs. Wild varieties still flourish across the globe today, and one of garlic’s most legendary powers remains unchanged: An ancient Roman poet lamented the sinister ability of garlic breath to drive away a lover. Thousands of years later we’ve yet to solve this romantic riddle.
But if you’d like to join the not-so-secret society of garlic lovers, read on to learn the best way to peel and chop garlic ,and then practice with the recipes below. And hey, if two lovers both share a garlic-inflected meal, then maybe …
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Garlic questions, answered
Learn all there is to know about garlic and banish any pesky vampires in the process
How do I choose the best fresh garlic?
A very fresh bulb of garlic (that’s what’s sold whole at the market) should feel a bit hard all the way around when you squeeze it, with no mushy spots nor sections you can easily push a finger into. If you see green shoots growing out of the top, this garlic is old and starting to sprout. You can still use it in a pinch, but the flavor will be diminished and you may want to double the amount. Whole peeled garlic cloves can also be found sold in tubs at the grocery store, but once peeled the cloves go bad quickly so only choose this option if you’re going to use it all quickly.
If the exterior looks at all moldy, do not buy it or toss it in the compost at home.
Does it matter if parts of the bulb are pink or purple?
There are many varieties of garlic grown all over the world; in the U.S. the white bulbs sold are usually the California Early variety, though there is also a California Late variety that stays fresh longer. Both have white bulbs that can have pink or purple hues in their papery exterior; this indicates the strength of the garlic inside! The more colorful the delicate skins, the more powerful the cloves beneath.
You may also encounter a larger variety called Elephant Garlic; it’s a much milder type, despite its bigger size.
How should I store garlic?
Unpeeled garlic can be stored with onions in a dark, cool place, though don’t add them to the potato bin! Your potatoes will go soft more quickly. Once the cloves have been peeled they must be refrigerated. Garlic is best chopped right before you plan to use it, but if you end up with extra chopped garlic you can refrigerate it in a small container (glass will not hold the smell after washing) covered with a bit of olive oil to prevent botulism. Use it within a few days. Chopped garlic can also be frozen in 1 tablespoon increments in an ice cube tray, then popped out and put in a zip-top bag. Use within a month as the more finely chopped garlic is more susceptible to freezer burn.
Can eating a raw clove of garlic really fend off a cold, or other illness?
Ask an elderly Italian and the answer will be, “Si, va bene!” The medical research is not quite as absolute, but across the globe it’s been used medicinally in one form or another for most of recorded human history, though today we no longer believe it’s due to magical properties. Garlic has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and even anti-thrombotic qualities, plus is rich in sulphur compounds, trace minerals and Vitamins B and C. That’s a lot of benefits in a tiny allium! So can it hurt to follow ages of folk wisdom? Simply say, “Grazie!” and see if you spare yourself a few sick days!
Step-by-step: The best way to chop garlic
What is the best way to peel and chop garlic? We’re so pleased you asked. Follow this step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Gather equipment and start popping cloves
Grab a cutting board, very sharp knife (small or large, whatever you’re most adept at using) and whole bulb of garlic. Use your fingernail or the knife to slit the papery skins between however many cloves you need. Once you can get the tip of your nail, finger, or knife just between two cloves (toward the top of the bulb), use it as a lever or hook to pop the clove out toward you. Fresh garlic cloves will generally pop right out without much resistance.
A bulb of garlic can contain anywhere from six to over 24 individual cloves; if they’re huge, feel free to count one clove as two or three.
Step 2: Smash away!
The easiest way to remove garlic cloves’ exterior skink is to lay a knife with a broad blade (such as a chef’s knife) flat on top of one or more cloves with the blade facing away from your body. Then make a fist as you think of a person, institution, or thing you’re mad at and smash the bottom of your fist directly down onto the flat side of the blade to crush the cloves beneath. Do not let your fist slip toward the blade edge. If the clove pops out, smash it again if it isn’t lightly crushed.
Step 3: Peel garlic cloves and slice off the root ends
Once your cloves are lightly crushed, their tight papery skin should be split. At that point it’s fairly easy to get the tip of your finger between the smooth clove and its skin. Peel up to remove the entire skin at once, or generally in a few pieces. Once the skin is off, slice the tip of the root end off. It’s a little too tough to eat.
Step 4: The best way to chop garlic: Slice a 3-D grid into it.
This next part requires all your fine motor skills; the more you practice, the easier it will become. If you chop onions using the grid method, this is the same except on a tinier scale. Holding your thumb and pointer finger on either side of the widest part of the clove on the cutting board with the cut root end pointing toward the knife. Using the tip of the knife, slice a line all the way down to the cutting board from (ideally) just shy of the top of the clove down through the root end. If you accidentally slice it entirely off, that’s ok, just press that part back into the rest of the clove. Continue cutting equal slices about the width of a piece of long grain rice across the clove, keeping the top intact to the best of your ability; most cloves have enough spaces for two to four slices. This is not the time to have a video going on your phone; safety demands your full attention!
Then, depending on the height of the clove, holding the top of it firmly together, use the knife to gently slice horizontally — parallel to the cutting board — stopping just short of the top of the clove. If the clove is tall enough, cut two horizontal slices, again about the width of a piece of rice. Congratulate yourself for keeping your fingers safe.
Step 5: Finely chop garlic!
Holding the tip of the clove steady, use the knife to cut the clove perpendicular to the top where your fingers are. You’ll have greater control over the knife if you keep the tip of it on the cutting board and use a gentle rocking motion to slice down through the clove. Continue cutting until you reach the top, keeping each slice about — you guessed it — the width of that piece of rice.
Use the tip of your finger to hold the very top steady once your knife gets to the top.
Step 6: Mince away as needed
Your garlic is now finely chopped. If you want it minced, push it into a pile on the cutting board and use your non-dominant hand to gently press the tip of the knife into the cutting board. Then, using a gentle controlled rocking motion, bring the knife blade down through the chopped garlic, back up and then down again just to the left of where you started. Continue gently cutting through the tiny pile from left to right and back to the beginning until the garlic is the size you require.
[I owe you this image and will send it as soon as I make it out of LAX alive! So, Wednesday I guess.]
Step 7: Transfer to a bowl for your mise en place
Lastly, slide the blade of the knife under the chopped garlic and lift the pile until it’s above a small bowl. Cut fresh garlic is sticky so it should cling to the knife pretty well. Use one finger to gently slide the chopped down the knife and into your dish and voila! You’re ready to cook! (Now go wash those hands.)
Delicious garlic recipes to hone those knife skills
Each of the recipes below will help you practice your garlic chopping skills — and eat well!
A white pizza is a fun variation on the standard red sauce theme: Here a combination of ricotta and mozzarella cheese stands in for tomatoes, with plenty of minced garlic to infuse the olive oil. These are easy to throw on the grill, too: Brush one side of plain naan with olive oil and place on a pre-heated medium-low grill for 3 to 4 minutes (until grill marks form), then flip, quickly follow Step 5 and then close the grill lid for 3 to 5 minutes, or until mozzarella has melted, checking pizza bottoms after 3 minutes to prevent burning, then continue with Step 8.
This delicious dish will have everyone at the table clamoring for more, please! Gochujang is a mildly spicy-sweet Korean red pepper paste that can be found in most mainstream grocery stores and lasts forever in the fridge. Honey, ginger, sesame oil and sliced scallions add to a balanced dish that tastes authentic and is full of healthful ingredients.
Minced garlic underpins the bold flavor in this big batch of tender beef meatballs (feel free to use a mixture of ground pork and beef if you prefer). Baking them all at once in the oven browns them nicely and speeds the cooking time before they’re simmered briefly in the marinara sauce of your choice. Serve with pasta or as-is in sauce. Any extra meatballs freeze beautifully after being baked, for an almost-instant homemade dinner on a hectic night.
Shrimp have delicate flesh that can turn tough and rubbery very quickly, so be sure to arrange them in an even layer and keep an eye on them in the oven. When in doubt, pull them out on the early side! No need to wait for every single inch to turn bright pink, they’ll continue to cook through for a few moments afterwards. If you stir the garlic into the melted butter before coating the shrimp, the garlicky goodness will be more evenly distributed throughout the dish.
Even picky kids find it hard to resist a crunchy, toasty piece of cauliflower. Adding minced garlic toward the end of the roasting time ensures the delicate garlic doesn’t burn in the hot oven (and lends perfect garlic flavor to the dish). Be sure to spread cauliflower in an even layer on the baking sheet. For even crispier florets, feel free to turn the heat up to 425°F, then sit back at the table and watch the cauliflower bowl get cleaned out pronto.
Everyone loves hot garlic bread straight from the oven, and it’s easy to put together. Fresh herbs are a fun variation; feel free to include herbs from the rest of the meal for a truly tempting menu. It can be fun for little helpers to use a kitchen pastry brush or brand new paintbrush to spread the garlic-butter mixture over the bread before it slides into the oven.
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