Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How to Peel Garlic

I want to share an essential technique that every cook should know: how to peel garlic. Growing up, when my mom made dinner that called for garlic, she either reached for the dried minced garlic in the spice cabinet—crunchy, hard, and musty—or the tangy-smelling wet garlic in a jar in the fridge. Buying fresh garlic wasn't even on her radar, and when I first started cooking, I didn't bother with it either. If a recipe called for a clove of garlic, I knew how to get the equivalent out of the dry or wet garlic we had and I made do. Fortunately, I realized the error of my ways and started using fresh garlic as my involvement with cooking continued. I completely believe that every cook should keep at least one head of garlic in their kitchen or pantry at all times—it's an essential ingredient in many Italian and Asian dishes and it can add a pop of flavor to many meals. Garlic is inexpensive, it's easy to store (I have a little "garlic keeper" dish, but sometimes I just toss the heads in with the onions or the potatoes we keep in a bin in the pantry), and it's really easy to use.

First things first: The whole bulb of garlic, which usually includes 6-10 cloves, is called a head or bulb of garlic. The pieces that make up this head are the cloves, and they can be small and skinny or fat and wide, and they are covered with an inedible peel/skin.

There are a variety of ways to peel garlic, but the technique I'm sharing is a classic. If you really like kitchen "gadgets" and the like, there are these little rubbery garlic peeler sheets, like this one, that you can buy to peel garlic—you put the clove inside the rubber and roll it back and forth and the rubber helps peel off the skin. They work pretty well, but I kind of think they're a bit silly. For the method I'm sharing, all you need is a cutting board and a wide knife (a chef's knife is best). 

Step 1: Remove the number of cloves you need from the head of garlic and place them on the cutting board. You're only going to peel one at a time (it's easier that way), but I've got two cloves out because I needed them for dinner tonight.

The little porcelain garlic-lookalike dish is what I keep my garlic in at home

Step 2: Place the flat side of your knife on top of the garlic clove (it doesn't really matter if you do it on the flat or the round side of the clove—I do it both ways). Be very careful that you don't let your hand slip and cut yourself! Press the knife down hard and rock it back and forth once or twice on the clove or slam the palm of your hand down onto the flat of the knife and push it down into the clove. You should be able to hear the skin of the clove crinkling as it opens up.

Additional note: After I posted this, my friend Tory commented that she likes to use the bottom of a can or glass to crush the clove, because placing your hand near the knife's edge is a little intimidating (I agree!)—really, you just need a hard, flat surface to push against the clove to get the skin to break. 

Step 3: Pull the peel from the clove. It's not always going to come off in one clean piece, but you should be able to peel it off easily. The clove may remain whole, if you didn't push into it too hard, or it many be a little crushed, but it's fine either way and it's ready to be minced, chopped, crushed, or sliced.

The one drawback to this method is that you can crush the cloves a bit (which doesn't matter if you're chopping up the cloves anyway), so if you have a recipe that calls for whole cloves and you want them to be absolutely perfect, here's a tip: Break apart the garlic head/bulb by firmly pressing down on the tip with the palm of your hand, or carefully dig in and pluck out however many cloves you need. Soak the cloves in room temperature water for a few minutes until the skins can be easily peeled off (they might feel a little slimy, but that's totally normal.).

I hope this post helps you out and encourages you to use fresh garlic (the flavor can't be beat!). Please feel free to comment if you have any questions or you just want to tell me if this post was helpful or not.

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