You have to admit, garlic is one of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts. It adds flavor and vibrancy to many meals and is an indispensable secret in cuisines such as Chinese, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking. A close relative to onions, shallots, leeks and chives, garlic originated in Central Asia and northeastern Iran.
When you use fresh garlic, it’s important to remember that the more you crush the cloves, the stronger the flavor will be. This is because it releases alliinase, a sulfuric compound. The finer the mince, the more enzyme gets released.
But roasting or poaching the garlic results in a very mild, sweet flavor, similar to slowly sautéing onions for French Onion Soup. Many of us have roasted whole heads of garlic in the oven. The same sweet flavor emerges if you slowly poach garlic cloves in oil.
I remember offering a little bowl of garlic confit at a casual dinner party many years ago. One of our guests asked “Is that garlic?!” and I thought – oh no – perhaps I shouldn’t have served garlic as an appetizer. But as it turns out, he and all our other guests absolutely loved garlic and happily gobbled up the soft cloves spread over ciabatta.
Use the garlic confit as a simple hors d’oeuvre served with chewy bread for dipping, or spread some on toasted bread with a little fresh goat cheese. The mild sweet flavor of garlic confit is absolutely addictive!
Remove and peel the cloves from a head of garlic, trimming the tough stem ends. If your cloves are large and show any sign of a green sprout out the top, slice the garlic in half and remove the sprout. If the cloves are small, leave them whole.
Place the garlic cloves in a small saucepan and add enough olive oil to just cover the cloves.
Bring the oil to a gentle simmer then reduce the heat to as low as possible - you want to barely see any bubbles emerging. Slowly poach the garlic in the oil for about 30-40 minutes until soft, taking care not to let the garlic brown at all. Let the pan cool to room temperature then serve the confit - oil and garlic together.
I like to serve the garlic confit in a shallow bowl for dipping with a hors d’oeuvres spreader knife on the side. Add some chopped fresh herbs or some pink peppercorns for color.
If you make a big batch of garlic confit you’ll find use for it in many recipes – even as a sandwich spread! Use it as the base for a vinaigrette or add some to mashed potatoes or a roasted vegetable dish for a great flavor infusion. If you prefer, instead of olive oil use some delicate green colored grapeseed oil for a pretty variation. Store the extra confit refrigerated in a tightly covered jar.