Garlic guidelines: advice from kitchen kingpins


THE OTHER night, as I peeled the skin off a garlic clove and chopped the skinned garlic to bits, I wondered if there might be an easier way to perform this routine task.

Searching for an expert way to mince garlic, I flipped through a handful of new cookbooks and found a handful of answers.

Julia Child told me to drop the cloves into boiling water to loosen their skin.

Jacques Pepin told me to crush the clove with the side of a knife before, not after, I chop it.

Daniel Boulud told me to remove the germ, or center of the clove, to keep the garlic flavor from running roughshod over a recipe.

Julia and Jacques put forth their advice on peeling and mincing in their new book, "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home" (Knopf, 1999). These two pillars of the culinary world offer their opinions, sometimes agreeing, sometimes not, on the basics of cooking.

Julia, for instance, says when she peels a whole head of garlic she clobbers it with a cleaver. This separates the head into individual cloves.

To get the skin off each clove, she then drops the clove into a 2-quart pan of boiling water and gives it a 10-second bath. The bath, Julia says, loosens the skin, letting you peel it off with ease.

Instead of a cleaver, Jacques uses the heel of his hand to break the head into individual cloves. He places the head on its base and raps the pointy tops with his hand.

As for peeling, Jacques pops the skin free by hitting each individual clove with the side of a chef's knife.

Jacques also pointed out that my mincing technique was backward. He first crushes the peeled garlic with the flat side of his knife, then minces it with the sharp side of his knife. I had been mincing, then crushing. I vowed to reform.

I found the suggestion to remove the germ of the garlic in the "Cafe Boulud Cookbook" (Scribner, 1999). This book, written by Boulud, the celebrated New York chef, and food writer Dorie Greenspan, is an effort to introduce home cooks to the French-American recipes whipped up in the chef's highly touted Manhattan restaurants, Cafe Boulud and Daniel.

"When garlic is too strong or not easily digestible, the germ is the culprit," Boulud writes. He suggests removing it by spliting a clove lengthwise. The germ then will be visible in the center of the clove.

"Remove it," Boulud says, and your braised carrots with thyme and garlic, or your goat cheese flans with garlic-herb croutons, will be socko. The flavors will work in harmony. Once a clove of garlic has lost its germ, it becomes a team player, not a showoff.

After consulting the savants, I have changed the way I peel and mince garlic. Now, if I can't get the skin off, I drop the clove into boiling water for a 10-second dip, Julia-style. I split the clove in half and get rid of the germ, just like they do in Boulud's kitchen.

And now I will crush the peeled clove with the side of the knife. Then, and only then, will I mince. That, after all, is the way Jacques does it.

Pub Date: 10/06/99

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