THE PUNGENT DEBATE: GARLIC
Garlic is a crucial ingredient in many cuisines, including Italian. However, garlic can become too "aggressive," invading dishes with its aroma and flavor, until it becomes unpleasant.
Because it is a debate, I'll begin by saying that I am not against garlic but the excessive use. Garlic is a crucial ingredient in many cuisines, including Italian. However, it can become too "aggressive," invading dishes with its aroma and flavor, until it becomes unpleasant. In a clearer perspective, garlic's unbalanced use can be the single most significant cause of failure in would-be Italian cooking.
When I began cooking professionally in the United States, I soon realized that garlic was used everywhere, from pasta sauces to ice cream. Growing up in Italy, I did not eat much garlic and still use it with caution. When I owned my restaurants, I implemented a garlic sanction on the new hires. When staff learned the proper flavor extraction and use of the stinking rose, the sanctions disappeared. Using garlic even among Italians is not sacrilegious, but it does divide the country. The main reason why Italian chefs don't lean on garlic as a crutch is because they choose ingredients in season and full of taste. Chefs always seek authentic flavors. Spices and garlic enrich pure flavors but not masquerade the final tasty results.
North American eaters love garlic, whether it is because of its taste, health benefits, etc. To them, no ingredient seems more quintessentially Italian than garlic. There is probably a reason behind the garlic fever we experience. Early immigrants began to masquerade with garlic the flavors of acidic tomatoes and unripe vegetables found in the new land. Today, we cannot complain about what we grow, from high-quality fruit and produce to plant-based protein and conventional. But in Italy, the garlic attitude is strikingly different, with a philosophy driven by disciplined use. Some people assert that we use more garlic in America because most of the Italian food found here comes from southern Italy, where garlic is supposedly prevalent. But that is untrue. Southerners use more garlic than the northerners, but not by much. Since the bulk of Italian emigration came from the south, the Italian diaspora created a sort of "Italian" garlic distortion field.
Some blame can be attributed to the lack of shared education by media. Food writers and TV chefs tend to load up their recipes with garlic because they know Americans love the taste. But that is an injustice to the recipes and the consumer. During an episode of the U.S. television show Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, host Anne Burrell's prepared the famous Bolognese sauce with four garlic cloves. The Chamber of Commerce of Bologna, who guards the sauce's integrity, calls for zero garlic. But let's give Anne the benefit of not being born in Italy, therefore excused.
In the section on tomato sauces in her book Everyday Italian, Giada De Laurentiis calls out the "garlic-laden stuff from the pizza parlor." And yet, her Salsa All'Amatriciana recipe has two cloves of garlic. The original version has zero. What's going on? Why is garlic deemed so "Italian" outside of Italy but less so in Italy? The debate will be here for a long time, and regardless of what we think, what remains essential is what we like and the overall taste of food we prepare.
Some suggestions on garlic:
1) Never mince garlic with a knife's blade, but slightly crush it. Mincing garlic, when used for stuffings, is perfectly acceptable.
2) Remove the dental soul of garlic (the inner part running through the clove). If ingested, it can be particularly indigestible and not leave a pleasant aftertaste. The color, thickness, and length of the dental soul indicate the age of the bulb.
3) An acceptable practice used by many chefs includes bleaching. Boil the garlic clove in water or milk, with a pinch of salt. The liquids will retain much of the garlic oil and be used to flavor sauces, soups, and stuffings. The ultimate flavors will be delicate, less penetrating, and persistent.
4) Using crushed garlic with the skin left on allows extra oil present in the skin to flavor your dish. Keep in mind that very rarely Italians ingest garlic. Discard after use or save for pureeing afterward for other applications.
5) Consuming garlic may not agree with every digestive system. Most people don't realize that garlic protrudes through the skin pores when sweating and can be annoying, especially when sitting next to someone on your flight to Australia.
6) When someone says: “wow, I can taste the garlic,” it means that the dish is unbalanced, burying other flavors. Still, use garlic carefully during recipe preparation. Always begin with small amounts and climb accordingly.
7) Garlic cultivation varies from place to place. The best garlic in America is from Gilroy's town in southern California; the worst garlic is from China, where growing practices contradict the cultivation methods used by most countries. When shopping for garlic, always read about the provenience, or ask store managers for the info.
8) Balance your cooking, because food can be over-garlicky, just like over-salted. Think of it as a pleasant addition and not as a predominant factor in cooking. Also, good cooks prepare food unselfishly and for others. Being mindful of the taste receptors of your guests is fundamental in cooking while expanding your culinary wealth.
9) Garlic does not pair well with every ingredient (despises asparagus and others), and choosing those combinations, makes you an excellent cook.
Thanks for reading. Eat safe and wear a mask! Ciao Chef W
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