This is certainly not your everyday garlic, and unless you’re a chef, a serious foodie, or an avid watcher of food TV, you might not know about it at all; chefs have been raving about black garlic for years. And not that there’s a thing wrong at all with your everyday ivory cloves of this pungent allium, but the black version is quite a different creature altogether. There’s a lot going on when you put a sliver of black garlic in your mouth. First, there’s a big hit of sweetness, a hint of smoke, then a lot of pungency.
It’s not quite like anything else you’ve ever eaten.
Indeed it is black, but not black as in burned, although there’s a faint smokiness. How it gets that way was through fermentation, an ancient method of preserving foods that has recently provoked interest among many home cooks and chefs. The practice of fermenting garlic is Korean in origin. When whole heads of garlic are fermented over a four-week period, each clove becomes black throughout.
Because the fermenting process takes so long, it’s also called aged garlic. The cloves remain intact but become soft, almost like a jelly candy or a Medjool date, and, in fact, the Japanese call it “fruit garlic.” They are sweet except for that pungent, garlic-like whiff that remains long after the first hit of sweet molasses has faded.
Fermentation greatly alters foods — the color, texture, scent, and flavors, which become more complex and removed from the original. In addition, the process produces glutamates, which create the grounding sensation of meatiness or umami, a deeply savory flavor. Fermented foods are said to have more antioxidants than unfermented, are more digestible, and are better overall for us as a source of probiotics. But black garlic is, most of all, an exotic new ingredient that’s being used in all kinds of ways — with fish, shellfish, on bruschetta, in risotto, on steak, and even on pizza and desserts. It’s odd, exciting, and pretty new to us.
Mashed Potatoes with Black Garlic, Ghee, and Shallots
After trying it various ways, I settled on making mashed potatoes punctuated with the black garlic cooked briefly with ghee and shallots. Heat tempers the oddness of the garlic and makes it better.
1 pound russet potatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup ghee
1/3 cup diced shallots
5 cloves black garlic, finely diced
1. Peel the potatoes, cut them into small, even-size chunks, then put them in a pan with cold water to cover. Add 1 teaspoon sea salt and bring to a boil. Simmer until the potatoes are soft enough to mash, about 25 minutes, then drain and set aside.
2. While the potatoes are cooking, melt the ghee in a small skillet and add the shallots and garlic. Cook for about 3 minutes on low heat, then let stand for the flavors to meld.
3. Place potatoes in a large bowl and mash them until they are smooth. Mix in the ghee and garlic mixture and season well with salt and pepper. Serve with flaky Maldon sea salt.