Black garlic became a popular novelty food item in the world of cooking competitions and high-end restaurants a decade ago. Now it can be found in specialty markets and occasionally on the shelves at Trader Joe’s. As with most food, what you make at home tastes much better than what you buy in jars at the store.
Following the lead of my friend Juliet, and the loan of her crock pot, I recently tried making “black garlic” by slow roasting whole garlic heads in a 7-quart crock pot on low for days. I also tried using a small, four clove mini-crock pot. I repeated the experiment several times in an attempt to improve or compare results. Although the pungency required me to move the garlic outside during roasting, the final product was worth the effort. The Bar Tartine Cookbook was my reference for this process– although I wound up needing far less time than they described.
For my first batch I filled the 7-quart crock pot almost to the top and put on low heat. The bottom cloves got a little too toasty and the top ones were a little moist. I turned the cloves and continued cooking for several days. After about 4-5 days the cloves were sticky and caramel-like with a pleasing texture and taste; however, some cloves were too burnt to be used.
My batches in the small cooker took about 3-4 days, even when I unplugged the cooker at night. Because the lid on the small crock pot is light plastic the seal was not as tight, the cloves got pretty dried out but perfect for grinding into a salt-like texture. This makes it easy to use as a topping or seasoning for a dish.I recall my friend saying she made hers into salt so I tried adding other spices and mixed the black garlic with fennel seed, cumin, and Maldon salt. It made for very tasty nibbling. The remaining cloves I stored in the refrigerator and added them to dishes as I would garlic, often leaving the cloves intact.
For my second try in the large crock pot, I lined the bottom with aluminum foil and turned the garlic each day, moving the heads on the top to the bottom, etc. I unplugged at night for about 8 hours. After three days, the garlic was “done” in that some of the cloves, when opened, where pretty well cooked and toasty dry. Because I was trying to make a paste I didn’t want them all too toasty. As is evident in the photo above, some were less cooked (medium brown) and others weren’t quite cooked enough (light golden).
When I mixed the cloves together, I took an small handful of each and ran them through the Cuisinart and came up with a pretty great paste. I store the remaining unused cloves in an air-tight covered container in the refrigerator along with the paste that I put in a separate covered container.If your food processor won’t handle the more hardened cloves, run those through your spice grinder until fine and then add to the other mixture of less-done cloves that you do in your food processor. It will yield the same basic result.
Many recipes, including the simple directions in Bar Tartine, call for 2-4 weeks of slow cooking at approximately 140 degrees. I was quite happy with the results from the shorter cooking time, since the garlic had to be moved outside. Make sure you keep away from moisture and on a safe surface like a cement garage floor. I put mine on a large piece of tile, but still unplugged for about 6-7 hours at night for safety and my own peace of mind. If you have a slow cooker it’s an easy experiment that yields some pretty great results.
Add to sauces, soups, or any dish as you would garlic. The Nopi cookbook (Ottolenghi and Scully) has a very good recipe for black garlic dressing made with the garlic, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, cocoa powder, pepper flakes, and olive oil served over toasted eggplant with yogurt. Above is a photo of the Nopi dish made at a friend’s house.
WARNING: if you live in an apartment building without access to outdoor balcony or deck space this could be tough. The garlic smell is overpowering.