Disclaimer: this post will mention sous vide cooking, I know, I know, again. It will have value for anyone, though, since good garlic powder is something all of us should have in our kitchen arsenal.
The lovely pulverized goodness that inspired this post came to be as a result of mucking and fuddling about with my newish favorite kitchen gadget- the Sous Vide Supreme. Now that it’s been out for a few months there are plenty of converts and just as many naysayers on their respective bandwagons. All I can say is that it has revolutionized the way I cook, but no more than, say, my food processor or stand mixer. Funny how you don’t hear a bunch of divisive derision on either of those culinary staples. It’s not like by adding in the sous vide machine someone’s taking away your frying pan, blow torch, or dutch oven, it’s just another notch on the belt, people. Ok, enough of my rant. On to the garlic powder.
One thing I’ve learned from sous vide that I am now considering with various other cooking methods as well is that different foods are ideally cooked at different temperatures. You would certainly cook a steak in the sous vide bath at 134°, though if you throw in some onions or garlic to give it extra flavor they won’t cook properly at such a low temperature. In order to work around this quandary, you have to come up with a way to get the flavor you want without expecting the sous vide bath to do the cooking. Same goes for lots of other flavor-enhancing ingredients in the sous vide such as wines, vinegars, ginger, some herbs, et cetera. Often a chef will pre-cook an ingredient, or merely add it via sauce after the meat is done cooking on its own in the sous vide bath. I really wanted to experiment with post and pre flavor additions in sous vide, however, to see if the slow and low approach lent any depth or detracted in some way. This is how I came up with the idea of making garlic powder (aka pre-cooked garlic) to add at will to my sous vide concoctions. I found a great post on the matter on Pablo Escolar’s blog and I decided to shake things up a bit by adding smoke.
I was smoking some bacon and artichokes that day anyway, (bacon, always a success, artichokes, not so much) so I figured no harm done by throwing the garlic in the smoker and cooking it that way. After two hours at 200° in the Weber Smoky Mountain, my garlic had taken on a burnt sienna hue and smelled like savory ambrosia. I also really liked how I could truthfully state I was smoking cloves, but without the nasty smell and lung-hacking most clove-smoking high-schoolers experience. Talk about umami- the fifth taste was all up in this piece that day. That’s when the waiting game started. Regardless whether you decide to make garlic powder by smoking or roasting the garlic first, unless you own a dehydrator you then need to air dry your garlic to the point that you can successfully pulverize it and it turns to powder, not paste. I air dried my garlic for three weeks before I ground it in the mortar and pestle followed by the blender for good measure. I didn’t mind much, though, because whenever I wanted to use some I just spirited away a clove or two from amongst the drying bulbs.
I’ve been experimenting with the finished product for a week now and I couldn’t be happier with the result. The only thing I wish I had done differently is make more of it. You might heed that if you try it. For the trouble you go to, you may as well yield a greater quantity than half a cup, which is what I got from five heads of garlic. In retrospect I probably would do twenty at a time- that way you would only need to repeat the process maybe twice a year. It is absolutely perfect sealed into the sous vide bag with a grass-fed filet, a touch of fine salt and nothing more. I considered pre-mixing some salt with the powder, but I kind of like to individually administer both because different foods require different amounts of both garlic and salt. The smoke really lends a kick to the flavor, by the way. Any notions I had of it softening the taste of the garlic are gone. Instead, it intensifies it, much like smoke intensifies pork belly when making bacon whereas pancetta (which is the same thing sans smoke) has a more subtle flavor.