Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.


The Great Garlic Roasting Experiment

by Sandra Bowens

Here's one that's full of our favorite recipes because we wrote the book! It is also full of information, helpful hints and ideas for using herbs and spices in your kitchen.

My husband hates garlic. More specifically, he hates the smell of it on my breath.  As he jetted away on a business trip last week, I dashed off to the market to buy a bag of garlic.


I wanted to figure out the best way to roast garlic.  People often ask me and I have never been quite sure how to answer. I knew of the method but, in light of my dear husband's aversion, hadn't bothered with much experimentation.


Surely you have sampled this trendy condiment said to be better than butter on bread and more delectable than raw chopped garlic in recipes.  With my freedom to breathe the garlic breath, I wanted to try both.


The idea is to cook an entire unpeeled head. You want to get the garlic cloves to the point where the flesh is creamy enough to simply squeeze it from the papery covering. The flavor is enriched and that harsh bite is gone.


Although you can buy a tiny baking dish for roasting garlic, I did not. I went to three of my favorite cookbooks for recipes. The fourth method would be based on a component from a salsa recipe I have used in the past.


 Method One: High Heat


Naturally, for learning to roast garlic I turned to Barbara Kafka's book Roasting first. She suggested that you slice about an inch off the top of the whole head of garlic before placing it in a pan that will just hold it. You then "slick" the garlic and the pan with about a teaspoon of oil and add two tablespoons of water or stock. The garlic is roasted in a preheated 500 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.


I used a small glass custard cup, extra-virgin olive oil and plain water for this experiment. After 25 minutes, the head of garlic was blackened in spots (as it was supposed to be) and delightfully fragrant. I allowed it to cool before squishing out the buttery flesh. Most of it was very soft but a few of the larger cloves remained just the tiniest bit crunchy.


 Method Two: Long Cook Time


Deborah Madison's book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone promised that the "long cooking time sweetens the pungent garlic."  Her recipe was similar to Kafka's except she suggested rubbing off all but the last layer of papery skin next to the cloves and not cutting into the head at all. The recipe called for butter or olive oil and just water. The main difference came in the baking. The dish holding the garlic is covered with foil and baked at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. The foil is then removed and the garlic continues to bake for 30 minutes more.


I used another glass custard cup for this one but went with butter instead of oil. After all the cooking, a sheen of butter remained in the bottom of the cup so I squeezed the garlic cloves into this. The soft flesh came out of the skin with ease--much smoother than any of the other cooking methods.


Method Three: No Special Treatment


In his book The Grains Cookbook, Bert Greene has a recipe for roasting garlic to add to a salad dressing. His method is to simply pop a garlic head into the oven at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes. He did suggest using a spoon to help remove the cooked flesh from the skin.


I placed my head of garlic, straight from the bag, onto a baking sheet and gave it the full 35 minutes. The garlic had blackened in spots and was very soft. I discovered that his suggestion for using the spoon to separate the pulp from the skins was a good one as this method resulted in a stickier garlic than any of the others. Nice browned bits flecked the softened pulp but it wasn't quite as smooth as the others.


Method Four: Under the Broiler


This broiler method is based on a roasted tomato salsa recipe that I love from The Two Hot Tamales television program years ago. For the salsa you blacken tomatoes, jalapenos, onion and garlic under a hot broiler for ten minutes or so, turning frequently. Except the garlic, you don't have to turn it--you protect it under a layer of onion. The onion turns completely black so you throw it away but the garlic is cooked and lightly browned. Even though there are six cloves of garlic in this salsa recipe, my husband loves it because the garlic is cooked.


At any rate, I decided that there was no reason this couldn't work for a whole head of cloves. It would be quicker and the cooked garlic would already be peeled.


Wrong! I peeled all the garlic, tented them with two layers of onion and started broiling. Ten minutes later, the onion had blackened but the garlic was still hard. Fifteen minutes later, the onion became a fire hazard so I removed that first layer and started again. After 25 minutes or so, the onion had again burnt to a crisp and some of the garlic had begun to brown as well.


When the cloves had cooled, I transferred them to a small bowl and set to mashing them with a fork. They were softer than I expected but had a somewhat stringy texture.


 The Results


After lining up the four custard cups on the counter, the judging panel determined that the  long cooking method had produced the best results. The creamy texture spread nicely on bread and had a pleasant sweet, nutty taste.


The high heat method was a close second. Just a bit more coarse but definitely as flavorful, it also won points for the quick cooking time. The paste added a subtle smoky taste when used in place of fresh garlic in guacamole.


The simple, no special treatment method resulted in the most attractive looking garlic puree. It had retained a stronger garlic odor than the other two that had been oven roasted. This would be a good choice for mixing into mashed potatoes or stirring into a sauce.


The broiler method is best left to the salsa recipe although it would work in other recipes that will be prepared in a blender. Consider this broiled garlic when a sort of half-cooked garlic might be just right.


The one thing each method had in common is that they all resulted in about two tablespoons of peeled, roasted garlic puree.


One big advantage to roasting garlic is that it reduces the dreaded garlic breath. After all the tastings in this experiment, no one seemed to be plagued by that problem.  I see a lot more garlic mashed potatoes, pesto and hummus in my husband's future.



You don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy the 700-plus pages of easy to prepare recipes in this fresh cookbook. This is the 10th anniversary edition.

 Does garlic really repel vampires and cure the hiccups? Find answers to these questions and way more than you ever thought possible about the stinking rose.

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