According to Herbst, garlic is a member of the lily family, which includes leeks, shallots, onions, chives, and garlic chives (try them). It is an edible bulb that grows under ground. The bulb is made of sections called cloves. Each clove is tightly wrapped in its own parchment-membrane, which resists removal. Garlic is available year-round. Look for firm plump bulbs with dry parchment membranes. It keeps well (weeks) as a bulb and less well (week) as cloves before drying out.
Quite a few recipes (certainly a lot of mine) call for puréed garlic. Surely you can’t put one garlic clove in a blender. So, what is being called for here? Garlic is usually chopped finely to maximize the release of the fragrant oils. Despite the small size of the garlic cloves, an 8 to 10-inch chef’s knife, with its wide blade, is best for the task (we’ll get to garlic presses is a moment). Indeed, because the knife is big and the garlic is small, what we are about here definitely falls into the category of advanced knife work.
1. Break out a couple cloves from the bulb, by hand.
2. Place the cloves on the cutting board and place the flat side
of the chef’s knife on top of the cloves.
3. Holding the knife handle with one hand, use the fist of the
other to gently pound on the flat of the blade to crush the cloves.
The membrane can now be removed more easily by hand.
4. Trim off the ends of each clove and then slice them in half,
5. Remove the strand of bright green garlic, now exposedthe
germin the center of each clove, this green part is very strong and you
do not want it.
6. Cut the garlic cloves finely using a rocking motion.
7. Gather the chopped garlic together near the edge of the cutting
board (toward you).
8. Dust the garlic with a pinch of salt, which will act as an
abrasive agent against the garlic for the final step.
9. Turn the chef’s knife nearly flat but on a slight angle, edge down. With the hand-on-handle extending close to you and knuckles clear of the cutting board, rock and drag the flat and the edge of the knife over the salted garlic along the cutting board mashing the chopped garlic into ever smaller pieces with repeated motions. This takes some practice, but results in a beautifully smooth garlic mush. Oh excuse me: garlic purée.
Every kitchen supply shop has a shelf full of garlic presses. Chefs don’t use them. But, since garlic presses work without having to peel the garlic cloves, a good garlic press can make quick work of Steps 1 through 6 (you will have to forego Step 5). An Italian company, Pedrini, makes the best garlic press I’ve ever seen, way better than the Zyliss model that Cooks Illustrated favors.