Depending on how you choose to prepare your garlic before cooking, determines how much flavour it can contribute to the food it has been added to. To put it simply, the strength of the flavour is directly proportionate to how it is cut.
It is very rare to come across someone who doesn’t love the spicy, pungent flavour of garlic in their food. Across kitchens, it is crushed, sliced, minced and even made into a paste, depending on how much flavour you want to add to a recipe. Interestingly, how you treat garlic directly affects the amount of flavour it imparts to the food it is being cooked with. The characteristic flavour of garlic comes from a compound called allicin which is released when the molecules of the garlic break down.
In short, the more the garlic is sliced, minced or crushed, the more allicin is released, which in turn gives more flavour. To understand and control the amount of flavour needed from garlic for a dish, it is important to know how to harness and extract as much flavour as is needed. Essentially, it involved making a choice between having more of the garlic flavour or less of it, depending on your tastes.
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Whole cloves of garlic are known to be a mellow source of flavour, as opposed to the chopped stuff. Since the walls of the garlic’s outer surface haven’t been broken yet, the production of allicin is little to nothing. This basically means that foods that only need the scent of garlic to be infused and not the full throttle of flavour, can have whole garlic cloves be used for the recipe. Additionally, the process of making confit, which involves slow-roasting whole pods in a neutral oil until it turns golden brown and soft to touch, mellows down the flavours further, resulting in a sweet, almost candy-like flavour. What this also does is give the garlic a nutty aftertaste, which works well when added to things like roast chicken, compound butter or simply squished on top of sourdough toast with butter.
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In order to harness the flavour of garlic that isn’t too overpowering but also present in a recipe, methods like slicing or crushing the garlic work well to extract the allicin. What these techniques result in, is a small amount of allicin to be released, which provides a flavour that makes the presence of garlic known, without being too intrusive a flavour. Using sliced garlic for recipes like hummus, pasta sauces, mashed potatoes and even steamed fish enhances the flavour of the meat or vegetables cooking with it and vice versa.
Image Credits: The Plant-Based School
For a powerful garlic flavour, using minced garlic or garlic paste works best. With the allicin broken down completely in the garlic pods, it results in adding maximum flavour to food. With these techniques to extract flavour, allicin continues to be produce long after it has been broken down, which means that the flavour of garlic intensifies, the longer it is cooked in a dish. Sharply-flavoured, pungent garlic is perfect to use for most South Asian food, which relies heavily on the flavours of fresh herbs and spices.