Ask Peter: Garlicky preparations
Is there any benefit to chopping garlic as opposed to putting it through a garlic press. I notice some recipes say to grate it, others to crush it with salt. Is it all just personal preference? Do you take the green shoot in the middle out and do you discard the cloves if they are looking a bit old? Does this affect flavour? Marlon
A garlic press – there are times I wish I had one myself. The various methods for ‘chopping’ cloves of garlic that you mention all depend on what outcome you’re ultimately looking for. For example, when I make my version of a soffritto — the Italian term for finely chopped vegetables sautéed initially as the base for most Italian stews, soups and risotto — I may slice the garlic or I may chop it roughly depending on whether I want to see it in the finished dish. A soffritto, to purists, will always contain finely chopped onion, celery and carrot (in a ratio of 2:1:1). These vegetables are cooked slowly in butter or olive oil (and sometimes a combination of both fats) until lightly caramelised and they give depth of flavour to the finished dish. However, I also like to add garlic and herbs, as well as the occasional cumin seed or lightly crushed coriander seed or fennel seed. When I’m cooking with my Fusion Hat on, it’ll likely include ginger or chillies. I guess my point is, if I want a chunky soffritto I’ll simply slice the garlic, and if I want a very fine sauce I’ll likely finely chop everything.
I can remember as an apprentice we were supposed to scorn anyone using a garlic press as it showed they weren’t real chefs. But when I was at home and garlic bread was being made, I couldn’t but help feel that it was a magical tool that all chefs should use — instead of crushing and chopping cloves of garlic mixed with salt. Not only did it take a lot longer, it made the chopping board quite aromatic for a long time. I’m also partial to grated garlic. For many people a garlic clove is simply too small to slice or chop and so a grater is a really good way to get smaller pieces of it, so go ahead and use a microplane or a traditional box grater — it’s entirely up to you.
As for the green shoots inside garlic — which is when the garlic begins to sprout — I always take them out. In my view they are too raw and seem out of place in a recipe. It shows the garlic is old, rather than fresh, and I feel they add a bitterness to the general flavour. Wet garlic, fresh new season’s garlic, is the most delicious of all garlic. Slightly sweet (if such a thing exists in a member of the allium family) with subtle pungency, I can eat whole heads of it, roasted until dark golden alongside a leg of lamb or a roasting dish of vegetables. To roast them, cut the top ¼ off a head of unpeeled garlic and brush with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Roast at 170C for about 1¼ hours, until the garlic has caramelised and emits a lovely sweet aroma. This can be served alongside a meal, but it’s also great served on the table, warm, alongside chopped tomatoes (excess juice squeezed out) and toasted bread. Butter the toast or drizzle with olive oil, squeeze some of the garlic onto the bread from the head rather like you might toothpaste, and spread it on. Then spoon on the tomatoes and douse with lots of sea salt and coarse black pepper. This is what the Spanish would call pan con tomate and it’s a great way to start a meal, with slices of jamon or prosciutto laid across.