No Stinking Rose: The Glory of Garlic

Celebrate National Garlic Day—Twin Cities culinary instructor Jason Ross shares techniques and recipes to tame garlic and enjoy its fabulous flavor

Photo: Adobe stock by bit24

There’s a reason why garlic has been called “the stinking rose.” It tends to make an impression, but it need not steal the show, says Twin Cities chef and Saint Paul College Culinary Arts instructor Jason Ross. It’s possible to use garlic in ways that hint at its bold flavor. Here are some of his techniques and recipes, which appeared in Real Food, to balance the showier side of the clove with its more austere nature. With National Garlic Day celebrated on April 19, now is the perfect time to embrace the versatility of this “bulb of life” that has been celebrated for its health benefits for centuries. Garlic cloves are rich in amino acids, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, selenium, beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and vitamin C. And, legend has it that it may even keep away those pesky vampires.

The Power of Salt, a Knife and Light Acidity

Even a small amount of raw garlic can permeate and linger throughout a dish. When a recipe calls for raw garlic, consider employing this technique to mellow the intense bite. The idea is simple: Break down the garlic into a fine purée or “cream,” and use salt to help the process, drawing out moisture and softening the flavor. If the recipe calls for acidity, such as lemon juice in aioli or vinegar in vinaigrette, add it directly to the creamy garlic to aid in breakdown.

Gentle Roast with a Little Oil

Something magical happens to slow-cooked garlic. The sting is muted, and the garlic softens with a rounded, full flavor. The great American chef James Beard used this technique in his most famous dish, chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. It might seem insane to use 40 cloves of garlic, but that is how subtle the flavor becomes. The idea is to coat the garlic in oil and then cover it while roasting, so it can steam until fully softened. This slow approach may be the best-kept secret to mellowing the character of the stinking rose.

Roasted Whole Garlic Heads and Quick and Easy Creamy Garlic Aioli

Photo by Terry Brennan; Food Styled by Lara Miklasevics

Roasted Whole Garlic Heads

Makes 4 servings

Roasted garlic is versatile. Spread it onto a warm baguette, use it to garnish a roast, or whip it into almost any purée, from mashed potatoes to creamy tomato soup.

4 whole bulbs garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 grind black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. With a chef’s knife, trim garlic tops, exposing cloves. Leave root end intact and papery skins still on garlic head. The whole head will insulate garlic and slow the cooking process while starches soften and caramelize.
  3. Place garlic heads, cut side up, on a sheet of foil large enough to hold all garlic.
  4. Drizzle each bulb with oil, pouring it into cut garlic. The skin and root will act as a cup, holding in oil.
  5. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and rosemary. Wrap foil around garlic and crimp to create an airtight pouch.
  6. Place on a baking sheet and cook 40 minutes. Carefully open pouch to check garlic; it should be lightly caramelized, and soft and yielding like a baked potato. If garlic heads are not yet brown and soft, reseal pouch and cook up to 20 minutes.
  7. Serve warm with a crusty baguette. Instruct guests to use a butter knife to push against individual cloves. Soft garlic will pop up and out of skins. Garlic can be served immediately but will hold heat surprisingly well in sealed pouch, up to 2 hours. For longer storage, squeeze warm garlic from head and store wrapped and refrigerated up to 7 days.

Quick and Easy Creamy Garlic Aioli

Makes 4 servings

Here is a straightforward way to try creaming garlic into a zesty aioli.

1 clove garlic
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon water
1 pasteurized egg yolk
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons minced chives

  1. Peel garlic and trim stem. Rock blade of a chef’s knife back and forth on a cutting board to roughly mince garlic.
  2. Sprinkle salt over garlic. (It acts as an abrasive and draws out moisture and some bite.)
  3. Now use the broad flat side of the chef’s knife, not the sharp edge, to finish pulverizing and creaming the garlic. Start by applying pressure with your fingers against the flat side of the knife, pushing the minced garlic across the cutting board. Next, scrape the garlic into a small neat pile with your knife, and repeat the process, pushing the flat side of the knife across the garlic, rubbing and pressing it across the cutting board. Scrape the garlic again into a neat pile and repeat the process until the garlic is smooth and creamy. It should take 5-10 passes, and may seem clumsy at first, but will become quick and easy with a little practice. Scrape garlic off cutting board into a medium mixing bowl.
  4. Add lemon juice and water, and whisk together. Whisk in egg yolk until incorporated.
  5. Combine oils in a liquid measuring cup with a spout.
  6. Add oil to mixture a few drops at a time to start, vigorously whisking, until starting to become creamy. Next, pour oil in a steady stream, whisking, until oil is incorporated and mixture is smooth and creamy. Stir in chives and black pepper.
  7. Use as a spread on sandwiches or a dip for vegetables. Store refrigerated in a covered container up to 7 days.

Cook’s Note: If you don’t have time or the inclination to make it fresh, omit the oil and egg yolk and instead add the garlic-lemon mixture into ½ cup of your favorite mayonnaise and season with chives and black pepper.

Garlic Oil

Photo by Terry Brennan; Food Styled by Lara Miklasevics

Garlic Oil

Makes 1 cup

Sometimes you want just a touch of garlic. Garlic oil can be used for sautéing or in vinaigrettes, and will whisper garlic flavor instead of barking.

3 cloves peeled garlic
1 cup vegetable oil

  1. Use side of knife to lightly crush garlic by pressing into a cutting board.
  2. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine garlic and oil. Cook 15 minutes, until garlic is lightly browned. Remove from heat and let garlic sit in warm oil 15 minutes.
  3. Strain garlic from oil. Store covered and refrigerated up to 7 days.

Nutrition info (per serving)
• Roasted Whole Garlic Heads: Calories 100 (60 From Fat); Fat 7g (Sat. 1g); Chol 0mg; Sodium 299mg; Carb 9g; Fiber 1g; Protein 2g
• Creamy Garlic Aioli: Calories 255 (250 From Fat); Fat 28g (Sat. 4g); Chol 45mg; Sodium 150mg; Carb 1g; Fiber 0g; Protein 1g

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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her school-age son, who used to eat beets and Indian food, will one day again think of real food as more than a means to a treat—and later share this with his younger brother.