Roasting garlic: more than one way to get a head

I’ve done my time running the show behind the swinging doors of high-end restaurants, where there’s something I call the “first dish” phenomenon. They’re the menu items that sell themselves once they go out on the floor: the sight and smell of the first plate creates an “I’ll have what they’re having” cascade. You know from experience that once the first order leaves the kitchen, there will be a dozen more tickets for the same item coming within the next 15 minutes. Picture the perfect head of warm roasted garlic, scented with lemon and rosemary, with crusty bread to smear it on, the right soft sheep’s milk cheese to put on top, and fresh, lightly cured and slightly sweet green olives to go with.

You’ll see a lot of television cooking shows demonstrating the more widely-known technique of trimming the top of a head of garlic, drizzling it with oil, wrapping it in foil, and roasting it for 45 minutes to an hour until the entire head is soft. It’s a lovely presentation, where the garlic takes on an alluring sweetness. It’s simple to do: just put your head of garlic on some foil (you can trim the top first or not), drizzle it with oil, and bake in a 325°F oven for 45 minutes to an hour.

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You can tell if the garlic’s done by piercing it with a paring knife. If the knife travels into the head smoothly, with no resistance, it’s ready. Take it out of the oven and let it cool.

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This is the presentation I’d have used in a restaurant setting, as you saw in the opening photo.

The other side of the coin in the restaurant universe is the quest for the highest yield from your produce, produced as efficiently as possible. That was the impetus behind the technique I taught my students at the New England Culinary Institute. This method takes a little more time up front, but you get more roasted garlic out of each head, you can actually touch and see your product to measure its progress, and it takes less time to cook.

The first step? Turn the head of garlic upside down and press on it to break it apart.

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Next, separate all the extra skin and set it aside. As I used to tell my students, keep the individual cloves in their “pajamas”.

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Use a paring knife to trim off any tough, woody ends from the cloves.

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Place them in a bowl and drizzle lightly with olive oil (Don’t waste expensive extra-virgin oil on this; the flavor of the garlic will overpower it anyway. Plain olive oil is fine.)

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Toss the cloves in the bowl to coat them evenly. This can be a lot of fun, but messy if you get too exuberant. Ask me how I know…

Place the cloves in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You can even put a foil-wrapped head next to it, so compare cooking times, as I did.

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Bake for 20 minutes, and check every 5 minutes after that. When you lightly press down on the clove and it gives under your finger, it’s done. Take the garlic out of the oven and let it cool.

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Now just pop each roasted clove out if its skin, and there you are.

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The whole head gets squeezed out if its skin, which is also a messy business. You also never get all the garlic out.

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I compared the yields of these two methods: as you can see, there’s twice as much roasted garlic to work with from the individual baking method, but it’s not something you’d serve to company. If you’re looking for a bunch of roasted garlic for your mashed potatoes, a spread, or some hummus, the single clove method is likely the way to go.

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If you want the more schmantzy presentation, budget some extra time to get the whole head of garlic ready for when you want it (you can do this a few days ahead, refrigerate and reheat).

We used this roasted garlic in the summer recipes for The Baking Sheet, in bread machine and on breads we baked on our grills. I hope these pictures will get you inspired: for a fabulous summer soup, try PJ’s white gazpacho, aka Garlic Soup.

Susan Reid
About

Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently enjoying her fourth career after stints in advertising, running restaurants, and teaching at the New England Culinary Institute. She joined King Arthur in 2002 to ...

comments

  1. Julia

    Will have to try this–sounds like an easy way to make a LOT of
    roasted garlic that can be frozen for later use. The separate
    roasted clove sections will sure be handy if you just need a little
    garlic now and then for seasoning.

    Reply
  2. Susan Reid

    Julia:
    I think it would be great with pearl onions. I recently finished a baking sheet feature on grilling, where I put a whole vidalia to roast on the grill low and slow until it’s completely soft. I think treating pearl onions the same way you do the garlic cloves, by roasting them in their skins after a light oil coating, would yield an extremely tasty onion that’s a LOT easier to peel than the traditional blanching in water method.
    Susan

    Reply
  3. Tom

    What about the huge ‘warehouse club’ jars of peeled garlic? Since those are ready to go could you just toss them with oil and roast? (I’m always looking for a reason to buy one of those jars of garlic but the two of us just don’t go through it fast enough!)

    Reply
  4. Gigi

    Susan,

    I love the idea of the higher yield method. Thank you! You mentioned that the “schmantzy presentation” can be prepped and stored in the fridge for a few days before roasting. Question, please: How long may I store roasted garlic for later use, and is there a preferred method for storage? Not that roasted garlic will last long in my home, but I’m just wondering.

    Reply
  5. Susan Reid

    Tom: We used to make prodigious amounts of roasted garlic mashed potatoes, using the jars of peeled garlic you’re referring to. We put the peeled garlic in half an inch of oil in a saute pan over low heat, and just let the garlic cook “low and slow” until it caramelized and sweetened up. Then the extra oil was poured off and used for brushing crostini, and the garlic went right into the food mill with the cooked spuds.
    Gigi: If you went for the big old garlic-roasting party, you could freeze the roasted cloves in small amounts (this is an ideal use for those teeny tiny foodsaving containers that are the right size for bringing your salad dressing to work in; or my new favorite, baby food containers) for up to 3 months. In the refrigerator, I suspect the garlic would be at risk of mold after a week.

    Reply
  6. JJ

    For those Costco containers of garlic I use what I can and before it starts to “grow” I do the KA roaster version in my smaller crockpot a lot of times (since there’s more in there than would fit in my KA garlic roaster). Olive oil, butter, parsley, salt (sometimes other herbs if I feel like it) and set it on low for a few hours until the cloves are soft and are able to be mushed. I keep some in the refrigerator and freeze the rest. I can usually even just scrape out what I need from the frozen part in the freezer too without having to thaw it all, but I have frozen cubes of it before too, makes for an easy way to make Garlic Potato soup and such.

    Reply
  7. Kathryn Henry

    My husband and I both love roasted garlic; however, one day he was “playing” in the kitchen and decided to place the steamer over something he was boiling and place a couple heads of garlic in it and steamed the garlic. While it didn’t have the nice roasted flavor, it still had the buttery texture and the flavor was mild. He also will wrap heads of garlic in foil when he grills and places it to one side of the grill. It is really delicious. Again, we get the roasted flavor and buttery texture with a little kick from the smoke. Any that we have leftover from the meal we place in a container and keep it in the refrigerator.

    Reply
  8. Heuchera

    Just wanted to thank you for showing us your quick method for roasting garlic. I love roasted garlic but hated heating up my oven for an hour for just a single head. I tried your method and it works beautifully! In about 20 minutes the garlic is done and the yield is so much greater. What a time saver this is! This is so easy and quick to do that roasted garlic has now become a staple in our home.

    Reply
  9. PatFromCCTX

    I am eating a quick snack of roasted garlic and crackers, thanks to you. I roasted my garlic like you did and it was better to roast individual cloves as opposed to a head. I got a little more than 3/4 of a pint mason jar filled this way. I started with 10 heads of garlic. Last week (before I stumbled across your page) I did ten heads whole and got less than half a pint mason jar of garlic. Of course both times I did eat a few bites (okay maybe a few plus one) for those of you wanting exact count of the outcome, lol.

    Thanks for teaching this old dog a new trick. And they said you couldn’t, ha!

    Reply

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