Garlic, Allium sativum, has a long past. From its honored spot in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs as early as 3200 BC to its role as a nutritional supplement for ancient Olympians. Surprisingly, it took until the first half of the twentieth century for the architects of American haute cuisine to embrace the timeless ingredient.
In our own kitchen, we follow the plant through its seasons. Scapes are sautéed briefly to preserve their delicate flavor. We pair them with local trout and wild morels. We scatter the plant’s delicate flowers over raw fish and salads. Whole cloves are pressure-cooked and pureed to bring out their creamy texture and rich, sweet flavor. The thousands of ways to use this versatile plant invite chefs to experiment.
Scapes. Chef Craig Koketsu of Park Avenue Spring in New York City pickles the scapes so he can use their flavor through the autumn season. Scapes, the leafless flowering stems of garlic, should be used while they are young and tender. As they mature, the stems become woody and unappetizing.
Young Bulbs.When choosing bulb garlic, Koketsu insists that freshness is key to flavor. He slices raw cloves, soaks them in ice water to crisp them, and uses them in salads. He also grates fresh cloves into olive oil for sauce bases and dressings.
Andy Trousdale, chef at Le Bistro in Lighthouse Point, Florida, and the Delray Beach Garlic Fest’s 2008 Garlic Chef Champion, likes elephant garlic for its size and mild flavor. The variety allows him to use large amounts without overpowering the dish. He slices it on a mandolin and dries it in the oven to make garlic chips, which he dashes with flavored salt for a snack or uses to top salads.
Dried.Garlic cloves are often dried to develop their flavor and increase their longevity. Moisture and heat will cause the garlic to mold and rot, so the bulbs should be stored in a cool, dry area and remain heavy, unblemished, and firm. Stored properly, dried garlic will keep for several months, allowing chefs access to the flavor practically year-round.
Chef Tony Maws of the Craigie Street Bistrot in Boston shaves dried garlic cloves as thin as possible and vacuum pickles them in a delicate citrus-and-rice-vinegar mixture to serve with shaved raw fluke.
Aged.Black garlic, which is derived from ordinary garlic, is relatively new to the American culinary scene. The process originated in Asia, most likely in Korea, where garlic bulbs were cave-aged for several months. The aged bulbs have glossy black cloves, which are sweet and tender with a complex, fermented flavor and none of the acrid bite of raw garlic. Of course, modern technology has caught up with the black-garlic aging process. Due to a newly mechanized process, black garlic now is available in the United States and is popping up in restaurants across the country.
The possibilities are boundless, so check out your local farmer’s market and see if you can find some fresh garlic to play with in your kitchen.