Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Black Garlic: An Already Sublime Ingredient Reaches a New Level

The world may fall into two distinct camps: those who love garlic and how it perfumes whatever it touches -- and those who detest it.

I belong to the first camp and so I was naturally intrigued when I learned about black garlic. Yes, it's garlic. No, it's not a unique variety. It's the same head you've been cooking with for years only it's been aged and fermented for a month to the point where it's softened, turned black and has taken on a sweeter, mellower flavor. Think molasses or figs. Dark and deep and complex.

In the U.S., the only producer is a young company called Black Garlic, whose owner, Scott Kim, originally had the idea of selling it as a super-food, given that it's rich in antioxidants. In fact, in Japan and Korea, black garlic has long been eaten for good health. However, chefs who obtained black garlic in Asia began using it in their kitchens and Kim's business plan changed. Today, you're probably seeing articles about it in newspapers across the country and have seen it used as an ingredient on Iron Chef America and Top Chef. Charlie Trotter and Eric Ripert are using it and foodies since have fallen in line.

I got some samples and after noshing on a couple of cloves (yes, highly recommended), I got to work in the kitchen yesterday. Kim's website has a long list of recipes worth trying, but I decided to wing it and made black garlic pesto and a butter with both black garlic and fresh ginger.

The pesto is your basic basil, parmesan, nut variety but I substituted fresh garlic with the black garlic. The results were a deep dark sauce with nutty flavors but sweet instead of pungent. To offset the sweetness I added red pepper flakes.

Pesto with Black Garlic

3 cups basil leaves
1/2 cup toasted walnuts or pine nuts (I used walnuts this time)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
9 cloves (1 head) of black garlic
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Add all of the ingredients except the olive oil to the bowl of a food processor and let it run until the ingredients have been thoroughly mixed and pureed. Then, with the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.

I expected the pesto to be much darker given the color of the garlic, but it's still quite green. The pesto will be perfect, of course, with pasta, but I'm also planning on drizzling it over slices of these beautiful tomatoes from Specialty Produce for lunch today. It'll be used on pizza and drizzled over fish.

Black garlic seemed a perfect ingredient for roasted chicken as well. Since that's what I was making for dinner last night, along with these magical little mini carrots from Specialty Produce, I thought black garlic butter would work well. But I upped the flavor by also including fresh ginger. It's easy to do. For what I needed last night I took out my little mini food processor and added two tablespoons of softened butter, three cloves of black garlic and about an inch of peeled ginger that I chopped into a few pieces. In no time I had the blended butter. I used half under the skin of the whole chicken leg, added salt and pepper to the skin, threw in a beautiful spring onion I had trimmed, sprinkled a little olive oil on both. Having been inspired by a recent New York Times story by Melissa Clark on creating croutons by roasting chicken, I dried out a piece of Trader Joe's cracked wheat sourdough bread, brushed it with a little olive oil and set the chicken leg on it. The chicken and spring onion roasted at 400 for about an hour.

With the rest of the butter, I sauteed lovely miniature carrots. These are no more than an inch-and-half long (many even smaller) in colors ranging from cream to orange to red. They have all the flavor of full-sized carrots but are precious on the plate. Once the carrots were cooked through, I added about a tablespoon of brown sugar and a sprinkling of dill and cooked it for another couple of minutes. You can use fresh chopped dill, of course. I had on hand a bottle of dill I had dried on my own (spread the dill fronds on a baking sheet and bake at low heat for about 10 minutes, then turn off the oven and let it sit until the dill is thoroughly dry being careful not to let it burn. Break it up, chop and store.)

Along with the chicken and the carrots, I had the most delicious rice left over from lunch at Balboa International Market, a local Middle Eastern market; it was cooked with fava beans and dill and accompanied a very tender roasted lamb shank and green salad.

The black garlic and ginger worked well together and infused the chicken with its flavors. They did the same for the carrots. The spring onion grew sweet from the roasting and was just a fun little addition to the meal.

You can't find black garlic in the markets yet, but you can order it online from Terra Spice Co., Mondo Food and Italco Food Products.

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  1. Very interesting - never heard of it. Can you make Black Garlic at home from fresh garlic?

  2. I'm sure there must be some traditional Korean or Japanese recipe but it's not readily available. You might find this interesting:

  3. Oh, amazing! Must have. Those carrots look divine.

  4. Ditto on the interest in creating Aged garlic at home. All I can find online is references to fermenting one month with heat. I already ferment dairy and veggies, garlic would be a fun new project.

  5. Ohmigosh, I had some black garlic that I picked up at Kalustyan's in New York City (impulse purchase--they had it by the cash register). It was expensive ($8 a head). I wanted to use it simply with chicken so the flavor of the garlic would be highlighted, and I found your blog. I didn't use the ginger because I didn't want the flavors to compete, but I made black garlic butter with thyme and a little fresh lemon juice, and put it under the skin. I'd read the same Melissa Clark article about roasting chicken on bread and had planned on trying it. My husband and I agreed that it was the best roasted chicken we've *ever* had. The bread was amazing with the drippings. Thank you for the fantastic idea.

  6. You're so welcome! Thanks for the marvelous note. If you pick up the black garlic again, try making pesto with it. It's lovely.


  7. I'll definitely buy it again, and I'll try your pesto recipe. The tip from fruitnut above is sells it for much, much less than what I paid. I'm going to try the Korean markets here in NYC to see if I can find it for less. I will also try the same technique with ginger and other flavorings, because it was insanely easy and insanely delicious. Thanks again for the inspiration.

  8. Aged garlic is not the same as black garlic. Black garlic is actually fermented for ~40 days at an elevated temp. There is a method posted if you are interested: