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Ask Dr. Gourmet

My garlic doesn't smell great. What's wrong?

I am a good, experienced cook but I have a problem with fresh garlic: I don't seem to get that delicious aroma that other people get when cooking with garlic.

I have heard of so many methods and myths surrounding garlic, crush it, don't cut it, put it in at the end of cooking, etc. Maybe I don't use enough? Maybe the garlic is not fresh enough, or maybe not the right type.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

heads of garlic and single, peeled garlic cloves on a wooden cutting board

There are so many ways to use garlic and whole books have been written on this topic. Here are a few guidelines that might help you:

1. Fresh garlic is best. If you don't use it up quickly enough, then keep it in the fridge.

2. When cooking garlic in a recipe that calls for sauteeing at the beginning of the recipe make sure that you do this over low to moderate heat. Cook the garlic slowly so that it infuses the oil with its rich flavor. Don't let the garlic brown or it will spoil the aroma and the garlic flavor will be bitter.

3. You can mince or slice garlic -- it really won't matter. The effect will be the same and it simply has to do with how you want the garlic to look in your finished recipe.

4. Some sauces such as pestos call for raw garlic. Again, using the freshest garlic possible is key. This will give your dishes the bold, full flavored effect that many crave (including me).

5. Roasting garlic will soften and sweeten the flavor. I love to use roasted garlic in sauces and dishes where I don't want that full, powerful garlic taste.

6. In many cases authentic Italian cooking does not use garlic as a predominant flavor as has come to be done in other countries. Dishes will actually only have a hint of garlic. This is accomplished by using the whole clove in a sauce and removing it before serving - much as one might do with a bay leaf.

In short, there is no one definitive way to use garlic. It will depend on whether you want the "full on" effect of a fresh pesto or the subtlety of roasted garlic. All are correct and all are delicious.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet