By now, you are pretty well aware of my love of garlic. Most of the garlic we eat in our home came from my garden. Homegrown garlic is the best for a few reasons. You can select the varieties that suit your tastes and how you use garlic; you can experiment with varieties that you will never see in even the best farmer’s markets. And garlic you grow and cure yourself is at peak condition, not all bruised and dried out. Nothing like that succulent garden garlic! Pay attention to the storage properties of the types you grow so you can save the long keepers for last.
I’m always looking for new things to do with garlic, and have three methods to share in this post: garlic confit, garlic honey, and black garlic. Each one very simple to make, but giving you a unique garlic product to enjoy.
For the confit and honey, you need to first peel the cloves. I usually peel about a quart of cloves at a time and keep the peeled garlic at the ready in the refrigerator. This lasts about a week here. It’s about 10-20 heads, depending on the type of garlic and the size of the cloves. (I normally harvest between 500-600 heads from my garden.)
Peeling garlic can be tedious, but here’s a shortcut. I break down the heads into single cloves, removing excess papery peel, roots, and as much dirt as possible. Put those cloves into a large stainless steel bowl. Top the bowl with another closely fitting bowl, like a dome lid. Make sure they fit snugly or the next step will throw a lot of bits of peel around your kitchen. Bowls that are part of a nesting set are great for this. Shake the “sphere” of bowls hard to bang the cloves against the bowls. The trick is to not overdo this and damage the cloves. I find that about 30 good hard shakes will loosen the peels without bruising the garlic. Then it’s just a matter of taking each clove out of the bowl, slip off its loosened peel, and place in the container to be refrigerated.
For both the confit and honey garlic, I slice a small bit of the root end from each clove, wash the cloves, and place on a towel to dry. This removes any fine dirt that might be trapped in the root end or on the surface of the cloves from the peeling process. Don’t do this with the raw garlic you store in the fridge as it will reduce its storage life. If you must wash raw garlic, just do it right before use.
Before I started making this, I would roast big trays of garlic and keep the roasted heads in the fridge. Garlic confit is similar in texture and taste to roasted garlic. It’s easy to make in quantity, but It does degrade a bit is not used in about a month, so I typically make one or two or three pint jars at a time.
You need an immersion circulator to properly make this because control of the temperature and time determine the texture of the garlic. If you don’t have one, you really need one! (Search for “sous vide” in this blog, and you will get more ideas.)
Preheat the water bath to 194F. Fill clean pint jars (I use the dishwasher to sanitize them, or you can give them a dunk in boiling water) with raw garlic cloves cleaned as described above. Leave about 1″ of head space.
Top with the oil of your choice. I like a neutral oil that will not solidify in the refrigerator, so I use grape seed oil. You may use olive oil, but it will solidify in the refrigerator. Again, leave head space.
You may add sprigs of herbs, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, etc. I usually keep it simple with just the garlic.
Tightly seal the jars with canning lids. Make sure the lids are very tight. If oil leaks out in the water bath, it is a real mess!
Process between 3 and 4 hours. Three leaves the garlic a little more firm, and four, obviously, a bit softer. I usually go to the soft end of the scale because a like to dissolve the cloves in sauces, stews, soups, etc. Firmer cloves are good on pizzas, casseroles, in sandwiches, or just for snacking in general.
This recipe came from a book I picked up in Japan, Tsukemono: Quick and Easy Japanese Pickling Recipes. This is a nice little book, full of great ideas and techniques. It’s called Ninniku Hachimitsu-zuke, or garlic in honey.
Again, this is totally simple to make, but the result is something very special! Both the garlic and the honey are magically transformed.
The acidity and high sugar content of the honey keeps the garlic from spoiling. The hygroscopic property of honey, its ability to draw water from other items, causes it to “cure” the garlic. There are small bubbles, but little pressure in the jar, so I assume there is some sort of fermentation going on as well.
To make it, place cleaned garlic cloves in a sterilized jar. Pour in honey to cover the garlic. Let it rest in a cool, dark place. Make sure the garlic is always below or at least coated with honey. You can stir it or just tip the jar. After a month, it is ready to use.
The garlic and the honey may be used separately or in combination. I used them together in homemade mustard, as a ham glaze, and in my world famous habanero/honey/garlic wings. I had to resist not just eating all the garlic honey with a spoon! I think the uses for this honey and garlic are endless.
Since the honey takes on water from the garlic, It dawned on me this could be a great way to use some crystallized honey. I packed the garlic in the crystallized honey. That kept the garlic submerged until the crystals eventually liquefied.
I’m surprised that more people have not yet seen black garlic. I had eaten it a few times in upscale restaurants, and always assumed it was something that was complicated to make based on the way the garlic taste is transformed. I’ve recently seen it showing up in the Asian markets that I frequent; it’s quite pricey.
Black garlic has a soft, gummy texture. It has an intense, concentrated garlic flavor with tart notes like balsamic vinegar. There is nothing in this but garlic!
You can buy a dedicated black garlic maker, but if you’re just making a few dozen heads a year, it can easily be done in a good rice cooker.
I have a small, 3-cup digital rice cooker. That holds 10-15 heads of garlic.
To make the garlic, crumple a large piece of foil, and then un-crumple it to line the pot of the rice cooker. This provides an air gap and helps the garlic transform more evenly. I’ve done this without the foil, and it works, but some garlic will be overdone, and some underdone. It’s ok, and it all get eaten, but the foil helps solve that problem.
Clean the heads of garlic, removing any dirt and loose pieces of the bulb wrapper. You still need a good wrapper on the bulbs. Place the prepared bulbs in the pot. Put the pot in the rice cooker, and turn it on to the “keep warm” setting.
The area around the cooker will be very garlicky! The idea is to provide moist heat to support an enzymatic reaction in the garlic cloves while a slow caramelization (Maillard reaction) takes place. The enzymatic reaction breaks down starches, the energy the clove has stored to grow, into complex sugars. The caramelization deepens the flavor by very slowly browning the sugars.
For good measure in preserving moisture in the cooker, I sealed the lid of the cooker and its steam vent with tape. I also put a piece of tape on the lid with the start date so I would not forget.
After two weeks, open the cooker and check the results. Some folks let it go longer, but I found two weeks to be about right. I peel the garlic and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Like the other garlic items in this post, the black garlic is excellent eaten as-is, but I use it anywhere I want to intensify garlic character. Stir-fry, dips, sauces, tacos…you get the idea.
These three garlic treatments highlight the versatility of garlic, and, although each is simple to make, will add great depth and dimension to the dishes where you use them. That is, if you can avoid eating them all out of hand!