An old New York City proverb, author anonymous, states, "A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat." There's reason number one.
All jesting aside, though, garlic, a well-known relative of leeks, onions, and scallions, and a member of the lily family, is a pretty serious ingredient in many cuisines throughout the world. Leave garlic out of a dish that calls for it, and it's pretty obvious that there's a certain something missing from the dish — fiery tom yum, hearty paella, and basic tomato sauce just wouldn't be the same without it. And its uses aren't just limited to the culinary realm — it has long been hailed for its medicinal properties as well.
For all the fantastic flavor that garlic imparts to countless dishes, though, the hardest part about cooking with it, oftentimes, is peeling the cloves — especially if a recipe calls for dozens and dozens of cloves, or if a party demands a double or triple batch of a dish. In my brief stint as a cook at an Italian restaurant, it was not uncommon to peel up to 60 heads of garlic in a day.
So what's the speedy way to do it? (Because working in a restaurant is mostly about speed.) This method is a bit messy, but we'll assume you have a fairly large workspace and a clean kitchen floor since inevitably, some cloves will end up flying.
Fill up a container large enough to hold about eight quarts of warm water — the warmer the better. Line up all of the heads of garlic in a row on the kitchen counter. Place your hands one over the other on top of the head and use your body weight to press down on it, until it goes "crack" and the cloves separate. Place the garlic into the warm water as you go, and repeat. Prep the remaining ingredients for the dish, and by the time that's finished, the cloves should slip right out of the skins.
Or, one could just buy already peeled cloves of garlic. (I never understood what the restaurant's rationale was for refusing to purchase them.)
Anyway, these recipes are so good, they're pretty much reasons to eat garlic unto themselves. There are a few appetizers and side dishes, as well as a couple of main courses, and of course, an eye-catching dessert that can't be missed.
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