One sniff of garlic sizzling in olive oil, and you know why this cousin to the leek and onion is so beloved as a seasoning. You can buy minced garlic in a jar and dried minced garlic, but neither compares to fresh when it comes to flavor. Garlic grows underground in bulbs, also called heads. Each bulb is made up of sections called cloves, which are encased in layers of papery skin. Garlic is available year-round and can be stored whole in a cool, dry, dark place for up to several months. Look for firm, plump bulbs. If the skin is white, it is probably American garlic, which has a stronger flavor than the purple-tinged Mexican and Italian varieties.
Remove the Cloves from the Head
Just remove the number of cloves you need from the head of garlic. The remaining cloves won't dry out as quickly when stored as part of the bulb. To remove the cloves, peel enough of the outer layers of skin to be able to grab a side of one clove. Use your fingers to gently pry the clove free. Once one clove is free, it is easy to pry other cloves from the head.
Loosen the Skin
Each clove of garlic is encased in its own covering of papery skin. A clove is easier to peel if you loosen the skin first. Working on a cutting board, place the side of a broad-blade knife, such as a chef's knife, over a clove of garlic. Press down on the unpeeled clove using the heel of your hand on the side of the knife. If you plan to mince the garlic anyway, you can actually flatten the clove a bit, which will make it easier to mince.
Use your fingers to peel the skin from each clove. After loosening the skin, it should come off easily. Cut off the root end. Your garlic is now ready to use whole or minced.
Tip: Another way to peel garlic is with a garlic peeler. This is a small flexible tube. Place the unpeeled garlic clove inside and roll it back and forth until the peel snaps loose.
If you slice your peeled garlic clove in half and see a green-tinged sprout growing from the stem end, you may choose to remove and discard it. The sprout is edible but tends to have a bitter taste. Simply slide the tip of a sharp knife under the sprout to dislodge it.
How to Use a Garlic Press
If you plan to mince a clove of garlic with a garlic press, the metal tool shown in the photo, above top, you generally do not need to peel it first. Place the unpeeled clove in the press and force it through the tiny holes.