I [heart] gadgets. And yet, every time I try some new-fangled widget that is supposed to make my life easy, I end up spending more time a) assembling it, b) cleaning it, or c) cussing that it’s not working. Often, I end up reaching for my knives. In fact, it was years before I committed to a food processor for the above reasons.
Garlic, however, frustrated me. The damn skins, the slippery cloves, my fat fingers. They all conspired to separate me from my fingertips and season my dishes with blood.
Then I went to cooking school in Thailand. Garlic is a big deal in Thailand, possibly moreso than Italy, believe it or not. When I arrived one morning to my cooking station and beheld a bowl full of garlic — completely intact with their skins and all — I wondered if I was being given some sort of sick Asian torture treatment. I looked around my station for a special garlic tool — anything, really. All I had were knives, a cutting board, and my wok.
Then class started. We tied our aprons and stood waiting for our instructions. We had a big day of stir-fry ahead of us. I knew I could probably burn through the vegetables pretty quickly and keep the blood-loss to a minimum, but considered doing the cooking-class equivalent of cheating off your neighbor as I looked around for someone who could mince my garlic for me. Or whose minced garlic I could steal.
The Irish pub owner at the station next to me accused me of hitting on him when I tried chatting him up and informed me he had a girlfriend. Seriously, I wanted him to mince my garlic, no innuendo intended at all. I don’t see how, in any culture, “You look like you’re handy with that knife” could be interpreted as “Hey hot stuff.” I returned to my station and decided to cancel any plans for the evening so I could hunker down and tackle my garlic.
The instructor then proceeded to blow my mind. He cracked the heads of garlic open by smashing them against his cutting board. Papery skins fell like confetti around his station. He swept it all aside and picked out the cloves. They still had skins on them. He placed the cloves in a neat little pile on his board and then picked one out, which he set in the middle of his board.
WHACK! It happened so fast I nearly missed it. He’d lifted his knife and slapped it — flat-side down — on the garlic clove. When he lifted his knife away, the little clove lay flat, and the skin slipped off of it and stuck to the blade. Whoa. He quickly assaulted the remaining cloves, dusted the skins off his board, and minced the garlic in less time than it’d take me to retrieve all of the random parts of my garlic press out of my “utensils drawer” (read: the drawer that holds crap that won’t fit in the crock by the stove).
“Okay, now you.” he told us. We slammed, bludgeoned, smacked, and hacked our way through our garlic pile, everyone producing a bowl of beautifully diced and perfectly peeled garlic in a matter of minutes.
I’ve since never even considered a garlic gadget. Nor an Irish pub owner.
Here’s a video of how to peel and mince garlic. Bonus: once you’ve handled that garlic, you can remove the smell from your hands (who would WANT to???) by rubbing them with a stainless steel spoon. Just hold your hands and the spoon under the tap and rinse your hands while rubbing the spoon all over them.