What’s Eating You? is a weekly advice column where I answer all of your burning cooking questions. Today we are tackling how to not burn garlic when frying or sauteing it!
I feel almost ashamed to admit this, but I still burn my garlic! I consider myself a decent cook, but this culinary dark spot leaves me stressed and frantic when standing over the stove. Rather than browning the garlic in oil initially, I have started adding it after a few things are already going in the pan. This seems to work ok, but I imagine that the flavor does not develop in the same way and incorporates unevenly. Is the oil too hot? Am I not using enough? Am I cooking it too long? It always seems to go from golden to brown in a flash!
Have no shame! Garlic can be tricky. There are multiple factors that could contribute to your garlic burning problem – and there is nothing ickier than burnt garlic. It all starts with your prep work and how you plan on using the garlic. Here are a few thoughts in the matter.
The most common way of taking the skins off garlic is to use the back of your knife to flatten the clove. This is efficient (and kind of empowering), but it also crushes the garlic and releases some of its sugary juices. We don’t think of garlic as being sweet, but it has a lot of naturally occurring sugars. Notice how your hands are sticky after handing this crushed clove?
Any garlic that has been bruised like this, or is subsequently pulverized even more by rough chopping, is a prime candidate for burning. It’s all thanks to exposing these natural sugars. There’s nothing wrong with prepping your cloves in this manner. But if you do, you need to make sure that you add the garlic further into the cooking process – usually after you’ve sautéed other aromatics like onions and carrots. The onions etc. will release some of their own liquids as they sauté and create a less harsh pan environment for the garlic when it comes time to introduce it. You should only sauté the garlic for a minute or so – until fragrant. Then continue by adding more liquids to the pan, or other vegetables that will release some.
If you are introducing the garlic to a pan with hot oil alone, make sure to use perfectly sliced, diced, or whole garlic. Start by thinly slicing the ends off the cloves with a paring knife. Then cut the clove in half and remove the skins. You can thinly slice the cloves from there, or dice it much like you would an onion by making horizontal and vertical slits in the clove.
When you’re frying garlic in hot oil, you want to keep the flame on medium. Watch the pan and once the garlic starts to turn golden, turn the heat down to low or remove the pan from the stove entirely before proceeding with the next step in the recipe. Often if you’re using a heavy skillet on a cast iron cooktop, the heat will be retained long after you’ve turned off the flame. This is why sometimes it’s necessary to move the pan to a heat-free back burner if things are moving too quickly.
It can go from golden to burned in a flash, so you’ll need to control the heat and also be ready with whatever the next ingredient is you’re adding. You can always turn the heat back up once the garlic is safe from the hot oil.
An easy way to impart great garlic flavor and avoid burning it is to use whole peeled garlic cloves. Brown them in hot oil, then remove them from the pan. This also makes a dish low FODMAP, for those following that diet. You can continue with the recipe and then add the cloves back in when you’re simmering your sauce.
Lastly, don’t use a garlic press to prep your cloves unless you’re using it raw. This purposefully pulverizes the clove and leaves it pulpy and juicy – i.e. very likely to burn if frying in hot oil. There’s a better way to use that garlic, like in this salad.
The most important thing is to pay attention, and don’t be intimidated! Let me know how it goes.
With health and hedonism,
EASY RECIPES FOR NOT BURNING YOUR GARLIC