Help Me, Kenji - How to maximize garlic flavor
Q: How can I maximize garlic flavor?
A: The more finely you chop garlic, the hotter and more pungent it will be. Garlic grated on a Microplane grater or crushed in a press will produce finer particles than chopping by hand, making it stronger still. Crushing chopped garlic with a bit of salt in a mortar and pestle will produce the strongest flavor of all. I reserve that method for very specific applications, like garlicky aioli, powerful marinades, or when I want to pump up the flavor of a salsa or salad dressing.
Sometimes we want to taste the sweetness and aroma of garlic without the pungent hit. There are a couple of ways to go about this, but they both involve a common element: heat. The enzymes that trigger the reactions that create hot garlic flavor get deactivated when cooked. To get that effect in a flash, just throw a couple of cloves of garlic into a medium-powered microwave for about 30 seconds. You'll get all the garlic aroma and no heat.
Heat can also affect garlic flavor through caramelization. Roasting a whole head of garlic drizzled with olive oil and wrapped in foil in a 350-degree oven for about 45 minutes will yield ultrasweet and tender cloves with mild flavor.
And for the most complexity, use both heated and raw garlic: A single dish with slow-cooked whole cloves along with some sautéed sliced garlic and just a bit of raw grated garlic at the end fires on all of its garlicky cylinders. Just make sure you've made up the couch because you're not getting anywhere near the bedroom that night.
Kenji Lopez-Alt is the chief creative officer of Serious Eats (seriouseats.com), where he writes The Food Lab, unraveling the science of home cooking.