Garlic is part of the allium family, which includes onions and shallots. It’s an essential ingredient that adds flavor to many dishes, but it can be tricky to handle. The garlic is small and has many even smaller bulbs connected behind the white layer of skin covering it all.
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To make it even harder to peel and cut, the individual garlic pieces even have their own tough outer layer that must be removed before cooking! But, once you get the outer layer off, your home will be filled with the fragrant aroma of an Italian kitchen in no time. Savory aromas will float between rooms, calling all with hungry bellies to come to take a seat at the dining room table.
Exactly when you end up cutting your fresh garlic pieces and the method you use will extract different flavors and responses from the garlic. Do it right and you’ll end up with a decadent dish that pleases all tastebuds, but do it wrong and your garlic can be overwhelming and ruin the other flavors of your dish.
The effort and time to learn how to mince garlic can be significant if you don’t have the tools. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Use this guide to find out exactly how you should peel and mince garlic bulbs to get the best flavors possible.
Step 1: Free the smaller bulbs
Your raw garlic is going to originally come with a white, papery outer layer that holds each of the separate cloves together. You must remove this layer to gain access to the individual garlic cloves, which is what you’ll use for cooking.
To do this, simply press onto the top or end of the bulb with your hands until it cracks open and separates. The white layer is fragile and should immediately break apart if your garlic is ripe, allowing you to remove it and expose the smaller pieces.
However, you don’t have to break the entire bulb if you don’t need all the pieces. Keeping them together will help them stay fresh longer. Keep reading to learn how to separate individual cloves without breaking the entire bulb.
Step 2: Separate the cloves
If you keep all your clove pieces together and only use what you need, the bulb will stay fresher longer. In this case, use your fingernail to cut into the crevice created by two cloves coming together. Once cracked, peel back one of the cloves with your finger and it should pop out. Continue with this method until you get as many clove pieces as you need. Your bulb will still be mostly intact and preserve the individual cloves much longer.
Otherwise, use the method above to crack open the entire bulb and then remove all of the white, papery skin.
Step 3: Cut off the tips
Once your individual cloves have been gathered, you can learn how to cut garlic. Before you do this, you’ll need to remove the outer layer of each clove. This layer is not good for cooking.
The first step for removing the outer layer is to cut off both ends of your garlic pieces. The outer layer is completely intact and will need to be broken down just like the white outer skin.
Using a sharp knife, cut off the top and bottom ends of the garlic, exposing the inside.
Step 4: Crush with a knife
With the ends cut off, take one garlic clove piece and lay it on its sides. Next, carefully take the flat part of your knife and place it over the garlic clove. Then, with a firm but careful motion, press down on the top of the flat knife to crush the garlic and release the outer layer. You shouldn’t need to press all the way to the bottom of your cutting board but you should feel the garlic buckle under the pressure.
What this does is break down the tough outer layer and release the flavors of the garlic within. It doesn’t take too much pressure to get this done so be careful not to crush it into garlic powder or paste. If you have succeeded, you’ll see a garlic clove fractured with the outer layer falling off.
Step 5: Peel away the skin
Now that most of the work is done, peeling off the skin of the garlic should be easy. Carefully remove the outer layer without including any of the fractured garlic pieces. Dispose of any remaining skin pieces and your garlic is fully ready to mince!
There are garlic peelers where you toss a few cloves into a tool and it crushes and removes skin from the garlic for you. It’s usually a manual process, but the tool helps make it easier and safer. You can usually find these at your local grocery store or at an online retailer.
Step 6: Mince the garlic
Next comes the mincing part. You’ll need to be extra careful during this process since you’ll have to chop garlic into very small pieces. Use a sharp knife and start to slice garlic into thin slivers. From there, turn your cutting board 90 degrees so that the garlic is facing the opposite direction. Continue cutting the garlic into small slivers so that you are now creating smaller, individual pieces of garlic. Once you have many sliced garlic pieces, you’ll use a rocking back-and-forth motion with your knife edge, cutting even smaller pieces.
Some garlic pieces will end up sticking to the edge of the knife because of the moisture. Carefully remove the pieces with your finger and continue cutting. Once the garlic reaches a small level where it can easily be integrated into your recipe, it is ready for cooking.
When to mince garlic
Ideally, you want to mince your garlic right before it’s ready to throw into your recipe for cooking. This ensures that it adds the freshest flavor and doesn’t overpower your dish.
When you cut garlic or most allium, for that matter, it releases enzymes called alliinase which start to break down the garlic and cause it to lose its flavor and potency.
The longer you leave garlic out that has been minced, the more enzymes that are created. Leave the garlic minced long enough and it will overpower the rest of the flavors in the dish.
So make sure you mince your garlic just before it’s ready for cooking! With this method, you can ensure that you are getting the freshest flavor from each peeled garlic clove every time.
A garlic bulb that still has its own white outer skin can be left sitting on your countertop and will last about a week, if not longer. When you cut into the pieces and chop up garlic, you’ll need to immediately put it into an airtight container and stick it in the fridge. Keep it in there until you’re ready to use. The airtight container will help to contain all the pungent fragrance that might absorb into other foods in your fridge.
For best results, it’s best just to use your chopped garlic right away. Otherwise, it will become very strong in flavor and smell and your recipes might not turn out how you want.
Can you use a garlic press to mince garlic?
A garlic press is actually one of the best ways to mince garlic. Garlic presses are typically inexpensive kitchen tools that help to smash your garlic and then press it through a tiny hole, creating small minced pieces of garlic in the process.
The pieces are more consistent and it will save you a ton of time. There are some more expensive versions of a garlic press that don’t even require the skin to be removed.
What is the difference between chopped garlic and minced garlic?
There is a size difference between garlic and minced garlic that causes them to be slightly different when cooking. Chopped garlic is cut into larger pieces about 1/8 inch thick and can be tasted more easily when added to recipes. It’s largely used in Italian food but is also used in stews, soups, or with proteins.
Minced garlic, on the other hand, is very fine and can be added to dressings, sauces, sauteed veggies, or larger dishes like stir-fries. The smaller pieces help the garlic integrate into the dish better without overpowering a bite with too much garlic flavor.
Different ways you can cook with garlic
- Roast garlic in a preheated oven or toaster oven until the cloves are lightly golden and fragrant.
- Sauté minced garlic in oil or butter at medium-high heat, stirring frequently to prevent it from burning.
- Add whole cloves of garlic to soups, stews, and casseroles for flavor enhancement.
- Steam whole garlic cloves in a steamer basket over boiling water until they are tender and fragrant.
- Add chopped garlic to a skillet with olive oil and sauté until it starts to lightly brown, then add the rest of your ingredients to complete the dish.
- Mince garlic and use it as a topping for salads, sandwiches, pizzas, or any other dish you’d like to add some flavor.
What happens when you cut garlic cloves?
A garlic clove has two main compounds, alliin, and alliinase, which are released when it is cut. Alliinase is a type of enzyme that breaks down the alliin and produces a pungent smell we associate with garlic.
The longer you leave a minced or chopped garlic clove out, the more these enzymes break down the alliin and increase the intensity of the garlic flavor.
If you’re looking to reduce the intensity of a garlic clove, you can soak it in water or an acid-like vinegar before adding it to your dish. This will help break down some of the compounds and mellow out the flavor.
How to Peel and Mince Garlic
- 1 garlic bulb
- Start by taking your garlic clove and placing it down on the cutting board with the root side facing down.
- Next, take the palm of your hand and gently press down onto the top of the bulb until the white, outer layer starts to crack. This should free some of the cloves and you'll be able to use your finger to separate them all. You can just remove one clove at a time by using your fingernail to cut an outline of the clove and using your finger to remove it.
- Once the cloves are separated, use your knife to cut off the top and bottom ends of each clove.
- Take a single piece of garlic and place it in the middle of your cutting board. Next, take your knife and press the flat side onto the garlic clove using gentle, but firm, pressure. The clove will crush underneath the pressure and the skin will become loose.
- Take off all the remaining skin and cut your cloves into thin slices. Gather all the slices together, and use a rocking motion with your knife to slice the garlic clove pieces into smaller and smaller sizes.
- Mince your garlic until you get the perfect size for your recipe. Once you are finished you are ready to add it to your recipe.