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Garlic: How to buy, store and use it

We have advice from a local expert.

Folklore says it can bring good luck, protect against evil and ward off vampires; but for most of us, we use garlic to give an aromatic, flavorful kick to an otherwise mundane meal. A member of the onion family and affectionately referred to as “the stinking rose,” garlic is truly a powerhouse of pungency and nutritional benefits, as well.

We asked Cooks’Wares, Inc. (located in Cincinnati and Springboro) culinary school director, Joe Westfall, to provide his tips on all things garlic:

Selecting garlic

Though garlic can be bought in minced, powered or paste form, the way to max out the flavor and nutritional benefits is to buy it fresh. Fresh garlic is arranged in a head, called a “bulb” and consists of numerous, separate cloves. The entire bulb and individual cloves are encased in a paper-like sheath that can be bluish, white or off-white in color. Fresh garlic should feel firm and dry when squeezed between your fingers.

Storing garlic

Fresh garlic can be bought in bulk, and if stored properly, an intact bulb can last for about a month. It is not necessary to refrigerate fresh garlic, but it should be stored either uncovered or loosely covered in a cool, dark place, like a cabinet. Freezing fresh garlic is an option but can greatly reduce the flavor. Also, as garlic ages, a tiny green germination — which is actually the sprout of a new plant — can appear at the center of the clove. It should be removed before preparing, as it has a bitter taste and will affect the overall flavor.

Preparing garlic

For peeling garlic, most chefs use a tried and true method of laying the garlic clove flat on the cutting board, taking their chef’s knife and placing it flat on top of the clove, and giving the flat side of the knife a quick whack with their hand. The clove smashes a bit and the papery covering comes right off the clove.

As far as chopping and mincing [finely chopped] are concerned, there are more tools coming out every year to make that process easier and easier. The old standby mincer, which has been around forever, does quick work of taking large cloves and turning them into minced garlic.

Then there is the chef’s method: peeling the garlic as mentioned above, placing it on the cutting board and using a chef’s knife, mincing the garlic into a fine or coarse mince; crude and simple perhaps, but thorough.

Finally, there is David Cook, chef/owner of Daveed’s NEXT restaurant in Loveland, Ohio. He demonstrated this once in a class: You take the peeled garlic and place it into some plastic wrap. Fold it over a few times to seal it in. Take the backside of the chef’s knife and rapidly chop at the garlic, quickly turning it into a fine or coarse mince. Then simply peel back the plastic wrap and your garlic is right there for your use — no fuss, no muss. And, your hands stay clean.

Regarding garlic paste, most chefs will use a little coarse kosher salt and sprinkle it onto some minced garlic and with the flat side of their chef’s knife, will mash the garlic and salt together to form a garlic paste.

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