You won't find black garlic in your average grocery store, but it's well worth seeking out. The fermented allium delivers the molasses sweetness and soft fudgy texture of roasted garlic, with a gently pungent funk. As Lower48's chef Alex Figura puts it, black garlic "has acidity, a very funky smell, and almost a charred flavor to it. If you can imagine puréeing shitake mushrooms with soy sauce, it would be that same intense flavor."
So what to do with the cloves once you've bought some? We asked a panel of chefs who've long been been charmed by black garlic for tips on how to bring the stinky stuff into your kitchen.
Black Ranch Dressing
Jon Bignelli worked at New York's wd~50 under Wylie DuFresne since 2007, before being brought to run the kitchen at DuFresne's Alder, where he ran the kitchen until just recently when the restaurant closed. There he took a playful approach to comfort food by turning pastrami on rye into pasta and making pigs in a blanket with Chinese sausage and homemade duck sauce.
Black garlic is really cool. It has an aggressive flavor, and once the garlic ferments it becomes soft and pasty if you press on it. It's hard to explain, to be honest, because it doesn't taste anything like raw garlic anymore. Raw white garlic can be really strong and astringent—black garlic softens the garlic flavor, rounding it out, deepening it with subtle aniseed notes. And there are other unrecognizable flavors in there, too.
It's really complex and delicious, which is why I don't normally do much to it. But I like to combine it with buttermilk, vinegar, and some oil to make something that tastes very similar to ranch dressing. I take around 100 grams of black garlic, 300 grams of buttermilk, maybe 25 grams of Champagne vinegar, five grams of salt, three grams of black pepper, and about 300 grams of grapeseed or olive oil. Put everything into a blender except the oil, puree it, and then slowly stream in your oil. It's really good as a sauce for roast chicken or lamb.
Fried Chicken Sauce
We do a double-fried Japanese-style chicken with black garlic in the sauce. The chicken batter is cornstarch, rice flour, all-purpose flour, and a little baking powder, with enough equal parts of vodka and water to hydrate it—the vodka allows the batter to fry up super crispy.
Then we make a sauce to pour over the chicken (that's why we need the chicken to be super crispy) with ginger, garlic, scallions, fermented chili paste, soy sauce, agave nectar, rice wine vinegar, a touch of sesame oil, and black garlic. Black garlic is really earthy and has kind of a meaty texture to me, so it gives a really nice savory aspect to the sauce.
Black Garlic Confit
Julian Medina is renowned in New York for the ways he plays with Mexican and Latin flavors at his Toloache restaurants. Richard Sandoval met a young Medina in Mexico City years ago and, impressed with his energy and vision, invited him to relocate to New York to work in one of his restaurants. Medina quickly became his protégé, and it wasn't long before Medina started building an empire of his own. His newest restaurant is Tacuba in Astoria, Queens.
I love to confit black garlic—cook it over low heat for a long time with oil until it's very soft—and then use it as a sauce or purée. One of my favorites is a black garlic and chili pasilla purée. Chili pasilla is also dark, with an earthy flavor, and the black garlic is mellow and compliments it very well. We use it for a fish, like with a wild striped bass or halibut, something a little flaky.
A Perfect Sandwich Spread
Jeff Mahin is a chef/partner at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and the creative force behind Stella Barra Pizzeria (Santa Monica, Hollywood, Chicago, DC opening winter 2014), Summer House Santa Monica (Chicago, DC opening winter 2014), and M Street Kitchen (Santa Monica). Mahin has accumulated several industry accolades including Zagat's "30 under 30," Forbes "30-under-30" list of hospitality industry up-and-comers and Restaurant Hospitality's "13 to Watch in 2013."
I love making black garlic aioli for a sandwich. If you're really lazy, just combine mayo and black garlic in a food processor. If you want to do it yourself, take three egg yolks (or one to two whole eggs), two to three cloves of black garlic, a few black peppercorns, some salt, and a little lemon juice. Start blending, then drizzle in grapeseed oil (since olive oil tastes like olive oil, and you don't really want that for mayo). Keep blending and drizzle slowly until it emulsifies nice and thick. If you want it spicy you can add chili, or add more black garlic to bring out that flavor.
The spread words really well for steak sandwiches. If you wanna go extra crazy, rub your steaks with the black garlic before you grill them—because the garlic is so aged you get a nice char when searing the meat. I recommend not making out with anyone for at least an hour after eating that, but it is good.
Easy 'Hoisin' Sauce
A Los Angeles transplant, chef Robin Song of San Francisco's Hog & Rocks has been working in kitchens for over ten years including Berkeley's BayWolf, San Francisco's Serpentine, and Daniel Patterson's Haven and Plum in the East Bay. His lauded "rustic-refined" cooking granted him the coveted award as San Francisco Chronicle's Rising Star Chef in 2013.
I was making a dry-aged smoked duck dish, wanting to mimic a Peking duck with hoisin and pancakes, so I whipped up a black garlic hoisin sauce. I basically just purée two parts overripe figs to one part black garlic—they come together nicely and hold up really well. It's a versatile play on hoisin, perfect for roasted meats like chicken, duck, or pork.
Alex Figura worked at Vetri Ristorante, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, El Cellar de can Roca, and Frasca Food & Wine before becoming chef/partner of Lower48, a Denver restaurant with "Best New Restaurant" accolades from 5280 magazine and Denver Westword.
Black garlic goes really well with lamb, yogurt, and shellfish dishes that have dairy in them. Or make a vinaigrette out of it like you would for mushrooms with sherry vinegar, a little soy (you won't need salt at all), a neutral oil, some Dijon mustard, and the garlic. It's so great with a mushroom salad of any sort, and there's so much richness and intensity in flavor that the salad can become a main course. I'd pair it with something bright and acidic, like strawberries or raspberries, to cut through the force of the mushrooms and garlic.
Rich Pan Sauces
Chef Annie Pettry grew up gardening, foraging, and fishing in her home town of Asheville, North Carolina, and made some serious cooking stops before landing at Decca Restaurant in Louisville. A 2014 Starchefs Rising Star, her menu relies on the diverse products of Kentucky agriculture.
I add black garlic in caramelized sauces for a mild anise flavor with a bit of earthiness and a hint of sweetness. Start by caramelizing onions and fennel, and then add a few cloves of black garlic and some chicken stock. Cook it down, strain it, and you've got a really nice sauce for chicken. Or whisk in some melted butter to make it extra rich.
A Pâté Upgrade
Kyle Itani is a yonsei—fourth-generation Japanese American—who has honed his culinary skills on both the West and East coasts at Yoshi's in San Francisco and Oakland, New York City's Meatball Shop, and a stage tour in Japan. In 2012, Itani struck out on his own and debuted Hopscotch in Oakland's Uptown District to popular acclaim.
I like to add it to terrines with pork or chicken liver. If you add slices of black garlic that have been baked in a water bath in the oven, it gives the terrine a lot of flavor. You don't need to even get a sliver of the garlic in every slice—the flavor is still in there, pungent but in a way that's more subtle than raw or roasted white garlic. It's got a deep flavor, so it adds richness without adding fat.
Black Garlic Deviled Eggs
Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly grew up in French-speaking Quebec, where he would later work at renowned Montreal restaurants including Toqué and Au Pied de Cochon. Brunet-Benkritly recently served as the executive chef/partner at NewYork's Fedora and Bar Sardine restaurants. He's now preparing for his own restaurant in his hometown of Montreal.
You can use it simply as a schmear with a crudo or grilled meat or, for something particularly delicious, we use it in our deviled eggs at Bar Sardine. Boil the black garlic in its husk for five minutes so that the meat is completely broken down and tender. Take the meat out of its pods and blend it with some lemon juice, olive oil, and a little bit of honey to smooth out the bitterness. Then take the yolks from some hardboiled eggs and mix it with the garlic blend, and it's delicious. It's really deep in flavor, reminding me of something dried and preserved. The paste lasts for a long time in the fridge.
Savory Ice Cream
James "Mac" Moran is a NY Times Critic's Pick Chef, Irish Echo 40 Under 40 honoree, a budding beekeeper, and the Executive Chef for Benchmarc-restaurants by Marc Murphy.
I make ice cream out of black garlic. It's got a somewhat sweet but mostly savory aspect to it, full of umami. Purée the garlic into milk, combine it with an equal part of cream, temper in your egg yolks with sugar, and then spin it in an ice cream machine. It's like a frozen vinaigrette or a savory ice cream that works well as a garnish on an heirloom tomato salad, or a salad with strawberries or cherries.