MAKE: Dried Black Garlic
Each October I plant about 100 cloves of garlic, cover their beds with straw and in July, I harvest 100 bulbs of garlic. It’s botanical magic, if you ask me. That’s a lot of garlic but I use it in almost every recipe I cook. I store the cured bulbs in a mesh bag in a side bedroom that is seldom used and is unheated with closed curtains. The garlic holds well throughout the fall and winter until late April-early May. By then there are 25-30 bulbs left and some of them will have started to germinate or dry out. Over the decades I have been growing garlic, I have experimented with drying bulbs for garlic powder, baked and used in sauces, chopped, mixed with olive oil and frozen in ice cube trays, roasted and frozen for later use, made the delicious garlic-balsamic vinegar paste (I lost the recipe, does anyone have it?) and pickled cloves. This spring, I took a small amount of my garlic stash and made dried Black Garlic which I am using directly on vegetable and meat and in seasoning blends. It offers a unique sweet-savory taste wherever it is used.
WHAT IS BLACK GARLIC?
Black garlic is aged garlic but you will encounter recipes that claim it is fermented. Fermentation involves microbes that chemically break down a substance so it doesn't appear that black garlic is actually fermented. Most of the online recipes and explanations appear to agree that the Maillard process (or reaction) is what changes white garlic to black garlic. You are already familiar with this process and its diversity of tastes if you eat any of these items: seared and grilled meats, sautéed onions, roasted coffee, the brown crusts on bread and interestingly, chocolate. The Maillard process is a chemical reaction between sugars and amino acids. In the case of black garlic, low heat and humidity are critical to its production.
There are two stages of black garlic; a semi-dried, slightly soft stage (similar to a fig) which has a deep almost syrup-like taste and the second stage which is thoroughly dried, blackened garlic that is then ground into a powder.
Black garlic originated in Asia and there are factories with special fermenting boxes to produce large amounts of black garlic which is sold commercially. This process is specific to the soft fig-like stage and involves two parts: specific amount of time in a controlled low temperature and humid fermenting box and then a specific period of time of curing. My recipe does not use a fermenting box, nor does it have a curing period. And it does not result in the soft fig-like stage of black garlic.
There are many claims in a variety of blog posts that Black Garlic has more antioxidants than white garlic but those claims apparently are based on one 2009 study using mice, and two more recent studies that do support the assertion that there are more antioxidants in black garlic. But those studies were based on the traditional (commercial) production of black garlic that includes controlled low temperature and humidity and then a specified period of curing. White garlic offers a healthy dose of nutritional and medicinal benefits already but my recipe is all about the flavor. Once you try it, you will be adding it to pasta sauces, salad dressings, soups, and sprinkled directly on meats and vegetables or use it in my Montreal Steak Seasoning recipe. My attempts to make the soft-fig stage of black garlic in a slow cooker with no "Keep Warm" setting has not been successful - the Low setting is too still too hot.
HOW TO MAKE DRIED BLACK GARLIC USING A SLOW COOKER
According to other online directions, it's easy to make at black garlic using one of two small appliances: a slow cooker or rice cooker. I don’t have a rice cooker so I pulled out my slow cooker only to discover that it does not have a ‘Keep Warm’ setting which reduces the temperature to a range between 145° - 165°, as recommended by others. My first attempt at black garlic resulted in hard and dried black garlic because I let it ‘cook’ at the Low setting for a week. One of my more delicious mistakes, I have to say. I have no complaints about dried black garlic powder and will continue to make it but will have to find a different appliance to make the soft-fig stage of black garlic
- Place your slow cooker outside unless you want your house, clothing, hair, furniture and family members to smell like garlic. Even outside, the aroma is potent.
- If you are using a slow cooker without a ‘Keep Warm’ setting, set it to the Low setting. If you have a Keep Warm setting, use it! But it will take more time than listed here.
- Select garlic bulbs with their papery skins still on. Do not break the bulbs into cloves.
- Be sure to clean off any dirt that is left on skins.
- Place your bulbs in the crockpot, place the cover on top and let it cook for 24 hours.
- Check the garlic after 8 hours. It should be soft but not quite black. Continue to check every couple of hours until all of the garlic is hard.
Remove and store in a garlic keeper jar or small basket. Grind as needed.