The biggest thing to keep in mind when preparing garlic is that the smaller and finer you cut your garlic, the stronger the flavor will be. Why? I’ll try not to be too sciency: The garlic plant cells contain different compounds – both pleasant (sweet, aromatic, garlicky) and unpleasant (burning, sulphur). When you crush/cut/smash garlic, you’re breaking open the plant cells and, releasing these compounds. The more cells you break open, the more compounds are released, the more flavor you get.
Unfortunately, the pleasant compounds diminish faster than the unpleasant ones. That means the pre-minced garlic you see on the store shelves are no bueno. They contain almost none of the tasty garlic stuff and virtually all of the nasty. Best stick with the fresh garlic and prep them when you cook.
When prepping fresh garlic, first and foremost, you’ll have to peel your cloves. This actually isn’t as difficult as it may seem especially with all the viral kitchen hack videos where people have been peeling whole heads of garlic with a pair of mixing bowls or a jar (disclaimer: it can take more than the instructed 10 seconds. It took 30 seconds of constant shaking in my experience). I usually reserve these hacks for when I need whole heads of garlic. Since I typically don’t use the whole head at a time, I usually resort to just using the knife (see the video I made for you guys at the top) or using a garlic press (also see the video and read more below).
The spectrum of prepared garlic goes from crushed garlic cloves to purée (garlic paste). Remember, the finer you prepare the garlic, the stronger the flavor (garlic paste is pretty damn strong). Also, keep in mind that smaller pieces of garlic (like all other ingredients) cook faster and and are prone to burning more quickly. I.E. You may want to add your finely minced or puréed garlic later in your sautéed (fill in the blank) rather than in the beginning like the recipe you’re referencing with chopped garlic. It took me a while to figure that out the hard way.
Hate prepping garlic as much as I do? But love the taste so much that you tend to double the amount in recipes it shows up in? Oh the dilemma. What’s a garlic lover to do? Luckily, someone invented a garlic press, which turns each garlic clove into a pile of deliciousness with a consistency in between a fine mince and a purée. I don’t care what some nay-sayers may think. It’s my go-to utensil when using garlic in my cooking, which is practically every time. That’s more use than my ladle and potato masher (combined).
The best garlic press I’ve used thus far is the Kuhn Rikon Epicurean Garlic Press. I’ve tried a few other presses but was largely disappointed. One press even broke at the handle mid-use. The Kuhn Rikon is sturdy. Its design also makes for fairly easy cleaning. But the biggest advantage – you don’t even have to peel the garlic! Just put a clove in (skin and all!) then press. Life changing. If you’re only using 1-3 garlic cloves in a dish, you can garlic press it straight into the pan (without having to peel it!).
Another good alternative to chopping garlic (however you’ll still have to peel it) is grating your cloves. The one grater/zester you’ll see in professional kitchens everywhere is the Microplane Zester/Grater. It’s the industry standard and the only grater you need. Using one will make a clove into a nice purée/paste. Be careful not to grate your clove all the way down though. I usually stop when I’m left with about 1/4 of the entire piece. Your fingers are much more important than ONE garlic clove.
These supplemental tools aside, if you want a milder garlic taste, need to fry a few pieces, or decide you’ll follow with all who oppose the power that is with the garlic press, you’ll want to get back to the basics and prepare garlic the old school way – a knife a cutting board. You may even want to keep these basics in your back pocket in case you find yourself cooking on vacation (via AirBnB) or want to cook dinner at your Tita’s house and left your trusty garlic press at home.
Enjoy your garlic breath, my fellow stinking rose lovers.