Cooking Tip of the Day: The Importance of Cooking Garlic Correctly

Most of all Italian dishes, especially pastas, contain garlic. Garlic can be cooked incorrectly very easily. It can be overcooked in a matter of seconds which will give it a terrible burnt and bitter taste or it can be undercooked which will also give it a bitter taste. I am writing a cook book in which I stress the importance of ‘Cooking Process’ rather than just tossing out a bunch of recipes. Since I use a lot of garlic in my recipes I stress the process of cooking it correctly. Because without getting the garlic right, your sauce will not turn out right. I hope the tips that I will be providing in my Thursday “Cooking Corner” blogs will be helpful in your future cooking endeavors. If you have anything to add or experiences you wish to share, please feel free to write in. We can all learn from one another and I look forward to seeing what you have to write.

Cooking Garlic

Garlic is the quintessential condiment in Italian cooking. However, if it is overcooked, it will impart a burnt and bitter taste to your dish. If it is undercooked, it will also make your dishes bitter but in a raw and biting way. Neither one of these scenarios are desirable. Therefore, it is essential that you learn to cook garlic correctly.

You need to be organized and attentive. The two important things to remember is to never leave the pan while sautéing the garlic and to always have some other ingredient ready to put in the pan as soon as the garlic starts to turn. You must be vigilant in this task. You cannot be watching TV or be on the phone or checking your text messages. Your eyes have to be glued to the pan because garlic can go from white to brown very fast. It is your job to catch the garlic just as it is ‘beginning’ to turn, since if you allow it to become brown, it’s too late.

Depending on what sauce you are preparing you will either use a light, virgin, or extra virgin olive oil. You will use enough to liberally cover the bottom of the pan. The garlic should be added to the pan with the oil before you turn on the heat. Place the ingredient that will be added to the pan right next to you. Now you are ready to turn the heat on. Set it at medium-high. From this point on you cannot move away from the stove.

The reason for having an ingredient ready to add to the pan (as soon as the garlic begins to turn) is to bring the oil temperature down so it stops sautéing the garlic. Once you add the ingredient, however, there will be a slight surge that will add to the cooking process, which is why you want to add it as soon as you sense the garlic is turning. When the ingredient is added to the pan the garlic will turn a tan color and in a couple of seconds it will stop browning. I know it sounds very imprecise, and you’re right. A lot of cooking is about gaining a strong sense of what you’re doing. This can only come with practice, a lot of trial and error, and not being afraid of making mistakes.

The ingredients that you add to cool down the oil will range from chopped onions, tomatoes, vegetables, or clams depending on what type of sauce you are preparing.