Garlic Confit Is Savory, Sweet, and Spreadable (Like Butter!)

garlic confit in olive oil

[Photos: Vicky Wasik]

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This article is for people who are looking for ideas about what to do when they have too much garlic. It is not for the people who are inclined to shout, "Too much garlic?! No such thing!!" Yes, haha, those people are funny, but they're also wrong. Too much garlic most definitely can be a thing.

Take me, for instance, who routinely buys one, two, three heads of garlic every time I go shopping, just in case I'm running low at home. That much garlic piles up, and as delicious as garlic is, not every dish is made more so by overloading it with those pungent cloves.

So let's say you're like me, and you're always in a state of garlic oversupply. What do you do? One of the easiest options: make garlic confit.

What is Garlic Confit?

Confit most frequently describes a process of very slowly cooking the meat of an animal in its own liquid fat—duck confit, pork confit, goose confit, etc. The meat is usually salted first to draw out some of its moisture and lightly cure it; the combination of curing and that long, slow cooking time kills dangerous microorganisms, helping to preserve the meat. Submerged in that very same cooking fat, meat confit can last for many, many months.

Confit can also be made from vegetables. Obviously, most vegetables, like garlic, don't produce enough of their own fat to be cooked in it, and so in these cases other fats, such as commonly available vegetable oils are used. There's no rule about which one to use, but I think olive oil is a good option for garlic confit since it adds a pleasant, complementary flavor.

In the case of garlic confit, the finished cloves come out as soft and spreadable as warm butter, with a deep and funky sweetness. Like caramelized onions, there's no intense pungency remaining, just a mellow garlicky flavor—so mellow, in fact, that you quite literally can never use too much. Which means, I suppose, that the "there's no such thing as too much garlic" jokesters out there aren't completely wrong. When it's garlic confit, they're right.

Is Garlic Confit Safe

overhead of garlic confit in olive oil

As with most foods, garlic confit is safe as long as you handle it properly and consume it within a reasonable timeframe. Exactly what "handle it properly" and "reasonable timeframe" mean depend on the food and recipe in question.

The primary concern with garlic confit is botulism, and botulism is one food-borne illness you definitely don't want to mess with...unless you like the idea of muscular paralysis slowly setting in until you're unable to breathe, all while completely conscious.

Botulism refers to the deadly illness itself, which is caused by toxins that are created by the spores of a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. The spores themselves don't present any danger—pick up a handful of soil and you've probably just picked some C. botulinum along with it.

Where the danger starts is in certain conditions: low-oxygen, low-acid, low-sugar environments, specifically. Garlic-in-oil checks all those boxes, which makes it a concern for botulism.

In truth, the much, much bigger concern is raw garlic that's been blended into oil, then left at room temperature; that's where past cases of garlic-linked botulism have tended to crop up.

But garlic confit isn't without some risk, too. Yes, the spores can be killed after enough time at a sufficiently high temperature, but to be totally safe, you're best off using a pressure canner, which is more trouble than I'm usually willing to go through with my own batches of garlic confit.

Chilling the confit quickly and storing it in the refrigerator is one big help: at temperatures under 38°F (3°C), the dangerous toxins form much more slowly, which buys you some time. Under no circumstances should you store the garlic confit at room temp.

All things considered, you should be able to keep your garlic confit for a week or two in the fridge with no trouble. Any longer than that and you're assuming some risk. It's arguably a small one, but one with potentially deadly consequences.

How to Make Garlic Confit

Adding olive oil to garlic cloves for garlic confit

Making garlic confit is incredibly simple. Peel your garlic cloves, trim the root ends, then put them in a pot and add enough oil to cover. Set the pot over medium heat and bring the oil to a bare simmer; then lower the heat until there's hardly any activity in the pot at all, save for the rare tiny bubble to come rolling up from one of the cloves.

When the cloves of garlic are extremely tender and a light tan color, they're done. How long this takes will depend on the age and size of the garlic cloves, and how hot the oil is. It can take less than an hour, or more than two.

You can also do the process in a low 300°F oven, although I'd just as soon let it ride on the stovetop, where I can monitor it more closely.

How to Use Garlic Confit

It might be easier to call this section, "How Not to Use Garlic Confit," since that's probably the shorter list (you know, like, don't use it as a topping for cherry ice cream). Anywhere you can purée, mash, or stud those tender, sweet cloves is a place where garlic confit can go: worked into sauces, gravies, and vinaigrettes; spread on toasts and sandwiches; folded into puréed vegetables and mashed potatoes; blended into soups; and spooned onto roasted meats and fish.

There's hardly a place garlic confit can't go. And you're unlikely to ever add too much.