This is perfect garlic. Photo by DonnaTurner Ruhlman

This is perfect garlic. Photo by DonnaTurner Ruhlman.

Garlic has changed for me. Now that really good, hard-stemmed varieties are available, I love to use it just briefly cooked. I find that in the traditional uses—in mirepoix for stews and sauces—it is completely lost. That’s right, I almost never use it in tomato-based sauces—the onion does all the heavy lifting. If I want garlic in a sauce or a braise I add it late in the game. My favorite way to cook garlic is briefly and in abundance, so you can taste it. Cooked this way it’s the powerhouse we’ve always thought of it as. I love it just briefly cooked in oil and used with pasta or smeared on toast. Donna and I used it in great abundance with tomatoes and basil—the season is near! Here’s the video that uses the fantastic technique of mounting butter into tomato water.

The garlic you buy should look just like the above, big and thick with a hard stem, tight skin, solid cloves. When you cut into it, it should be juicy. The smaller and whiter the germ, the younger the garlic. Can’t wait for garlic to be back in season.

Just home from vacay with Mom and back to work, photography for the new book, but had to post this great shot from Donna. Very excited about tomorrow’s guest post on the almighty ham.

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© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.


19 Wonderful responses to “How Important Is Garlic?”

  • Ely

    Completely agree! Sometimes I wonder why I take the time to peel and chop garlic for anything but briefly cooked applications (freshly grated into whipped mashed potatoes, lightly sauteed for pasta, chopped raw into cooking rice)

  • adam

    Sound advice about garlic, i was going to make your braised duck legs from twenty but with chicken legs, do you advise altering the recipe at all by using the different protein?

    • Michael Ruhlman

      chix works great, be sure to broil when done to crisp the skin.

  • joelfinkle

    A revelation that “you’re doing it wrong” with garlic arrived with Fuschia Dunlop’s recipe for Gong Bao (Kung Pow) Chicken in “Land of Plenty”: The garlic and ginger are sliced into pieces and added *after* the meat is cooked, giving a big kick to the flavor that is the essence of Sichuan Chinese (that and black vinegar). Previously most Chinese recipes I’d read added the garlic and ginger to the hot oil at the start of cooking, which would flavor the oil, but would significantly disappear by the time all the food is cooked. Note that Indian cooking typically adds the garlic and ginger after cooking down a base of onions (a one-note mirepoix).

    But how important is garlic? At least as important as chocolate. It’s life itself.

    Salad dressings (hurray for the microplane), aglio i olio, critical for green leafy veg (mmm pad see ew), skirt steak marinade (for carne asada, bul go gi, greek, etc. etc.).

  • LunaCafe

    Fabulous photo! I often add garlic in 2 stages, early and late. It’s 2 different ingredients used that way. And I use WAY MORE than I used to, often 8-12 large cloves or a full tablespoon minced or slivered. …Susan

  • ...pat.

    I love the photo! I need to play with hard-necked garlic more: I have some hanging in my kitchen from a local garlic festival late in the fall. And I planted some, so if it all grows, I should have about 54 bulbs of garlic this fall.

  • Kimberly

    Even if the garlic flavor gets lost in the mix it is still great to add for health reasons. There is a reason why it has traditionally been included. Onions too!

  • Kasha the FarmGirl

    Such a beautiful photo! Hard-neck garlic is fantastic – it’s all we grow here in NY. Imagine the aroma of walking through an acre of waist-high garlic!

  • Ryan

    I love garlic and my favorite current application is in a roasted garlic tomato sauce. I mince an entire head of garlic and poach it in a mix of olive oil and butter over low heat for 30-45 minutes. The garlic and oil is added to a simple tomato sauce of good canned tomatoes, a hint of basil, s&p and finished with a quick hit of balsamic vinegar. So much garlic goodness I could eat it all by itself.

  • slightlypickled

    Michael, I followed the link to the video and I’m curious. When you move the pasta off the heat and pivot to the counter behind your stove…is that a bottle of Molson Export on your counter?

  • Allen

    The tops – or spears as some call them, are sprouting up, they should not go unnoticed. They are great sautéed, or made into a pesto like sauce.

    I am still buying peeled garlic, the in season selection is not available in my store yet.
    I wish you could preserve the greatness of in season garlic, sadly it is only great when fresh.
    I have found no acceptable substitute for fresh, other than the sub par peeled variety, garlic oil, or garlic salt, but fresh is the best.

  • Tags

    If I have the oven on I just leave the garlic in there for an hour or longer and eventually it just turns into a delicious roasted garlic sauce by itself. And easy, just squeeze it out of the skin. If it’s not a sauce, cook it a little longer.

  • Mike

    Great post, Michael. Good garlic lesson for me. I’m going to try that adding it “late in the game” next time.

  • Betty

    Ever been to a garlic festival? There are dozens of different varieties yet most supermarkets have one small anonymous garlic bin. My parents grow their own (it’s very easy; you root and plant the cloves). It’s amazing. I dread the eventuality of running out and buying from the store until next years crop is ready.

  • APP

    Started your lemon confit tonight, and used your guidance on chicken stock….all despite the fact that I was trying to branch out!

  • Debbie

    Just love any type of garlic and will start to add it later in the game.
    It is just so good for you. In Japan you can get garlic drinks and tablets to prolong your life. Could you handle a can of garlic juice?