Have you ever wondered why some recipes call for chopped garlic while others list minced, sliced or even whole cloves? When using fresh raw garlic, it’s important to know that “how” you cut it directly affects the flavor intensity.
When you cut into a raw garlic clove, you are rupturing the cells. The finer the clove is cut (chopped, minced etc.), the more the cells are broken down and the more intense the flavor becomes. Also, as soon as it is cut the flavor gets stronger so, it’s best to not prepare garlic until just before you are ready to use it. If you notice green sprouts in the garlic, you should remove them because they are quite bitter and unpleasant tasting. This is true whether you are using the garlic raw or going to cook with it.
Raw garlic, with its sulfur-containing compounds, imparts a certain pungency to a dish. But, when it is cooked it becomes milder and sweeter. (The same thing can be said of onions; raw onions will have more of a sharp bite, whereas, roasted or sautéed onions will have a subtler taste).
Just as you might prefer a slice of raw onion (garlic’s allium cousin) on a burger or in tuna and cannellini bean salad, there are many dishes you could use garlic in its raw state, such as marinated melanzane. Much of the time I use garlic in recipes that require it to be cooked in some way, such as, sauteing it with vegetables, making beans and legumes, soups and sauces. Cooking affects the intensity, softening the sharpness and adding depth of flavor to the overall dish without being overwhelming.
I prefer roasted garlic in recipes when I want a more mellow, slightly sweet flavor. This is particularly true in those recipes that do not get cooked, such as, hummus, certain salad dressings and dips.
Although garlic is available all year long, it is best when it is harvested in the late spring to late summer. Fresh heads of garlic have a soft, white papery skin that becomes dry and flaky as it ages. Choose garlic that feels heavy in your hand. The lighter it feels (loss of moisture) the older it is and will have a sharper, bitter taste. Store in the pantry in a garlic crock. The holes in the jar allow for air circulation. Never store garlic in the refrigerator.