Now THAT is some big garlic.
I grew up in a family where the motto in the kitchen was, “you can never have too much garlic!” Don’t get me wrong, garlic is still a prominent factor in my cooking, but when you get right down to it… you can have too much. Especially if it’s raw. (Roasted garlic, on the other hand, is another story.)
We’ve all experienced eating something with that overpowering bite that garlic can sometimes have, and even to a garlic-lover like me, it’s not a pleasant thing. Elephant garlic is different, though. It may be nearly quadruple the size of a regular bulb, but its flavor is not as powerful as you might think. It’s a gentle giant, this one.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t actually discover this mammoth variety until recently. I’ve known about it for ages, but for some reason have never been able to track it down. Every specialty shop, every farmer’s market… if there was elephant garlic to be found, it eluded me. Why something as simple as this would be so hard to find baffles me — perhaps I will have to plant it myself next year.
While this burly bulb is in the same family as garlic, it is actually more closely related to a leek. In the same way that leeks are milder than onions, elephant garlic is milder, and with a slightly different flavor, than regular garlic — slightly garlicy, but without the sharp, pungent bite. This makes it much more palatable when used raw, and becomes somewhat sweet, like an onion, when cooked.
Because the flavor is less intense, elephant garlic isn’t a suitable replacement for regular garlic in applications where the flavor is meant to be very strong or robust. It can, however, be a great addition to a dish when a sweeter, more subtle flavor is needed. Think of it as being like a really big, slightly-more-garlicy, slightly-less-oniony shallot. You can use it chopped or minced, or even shaved thinly directly into a dish, or over the top of a salad.
Since T-Hubs isn’t quite so big a fan of garlic as I am, elephant garlic can sometimes make a happy medium we both enjoy. You can even use it in combination with regular garlic to find the right amount of flavor for you. And, like regular garlic, it can be roasted to bring out the sweetness, perfect for adding depth of flavor to soups and stews, or smeared shamelessly across a piece of bread with olive oil.
When purchasing, look for a firm bulb with plenty of papery outer skin. Keep in mind that elephant garlic has a much shorter shelf life than regular garlic, and should be used within a couple weeks for optimum flavor. When cooking, be sure to use a low heat to prevent the garlic from burning.
Have you ever tried elephant garlic, and if so, what is your favorite way to use it? Share in the comments below!