Garlic is often seen as a perfunctory ingredient in cooking, used in a slapdash, cursory manner. “We’ll put a little bit of garlic in,” Gordon Ramsay recommends in his Ultimate Cookery Course on steak. “Garlic… just one clove,” Nigella Lawson counsels, while assembling a mussel linguine on an episode of Forever Summer with Nigella.
But for me, there’s no such thing as “just a little bit” or “not too much” when it comes to garlic. I side-eye recipes that call for half a clove of garlic in a curry that claims to serve four, vilify garlic bread that I don’t smell before I see, and abandon aglio e olio recipes that call for cloves and not heads. Because to me, whether it’s in pasta, stews, or even a simple Chinese stir-fry, garlic should never be a mere afterthought, but treated as an intentional, starring ingredient. Too many times have I followed a supposedly garlic-forward recipe to a tee, only to find the end result severely lacking in pungent punch.
For moments like these—too deep into a garlic-weak recipe to turn around, but not quite satisfied with the end result—I have a secret weapon. Well, a secret stash of crispy garlic bits.
Though secret, it’s nothing fancy: Garlic, two heads worth, gets minced with a knife, thrown into a pot of cold oil, and gently fried until golden. (Though you may be tempted, do not use a garlic press, which will yield garlic that’s more mash than bits.) Crispy, sharp, and sweet, with just a hint of smoky bitterness, these garlic bits have been the savior of many a dreary dish. I’ve used this golden topping to uplift and umami-fy lackluster salads, limp noodles, and botched steaks.
Making fried garlic also yields a profound by-product—garlic oil, which has just as many applications as the toasted bits themselves. Simply start off any stir- or pan-frying with it, in place of regular vegetable oil, and the garlic oil will add an unprecedented savouriness and depth. As the late French chef and restaurateur Marcel Boulestin puts it: “It is not really an exaggeration to say that peace and happiness begin, geographically, where garlic is used in cooking.”
—Yi Jun Loh
about 1 cup
heads of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
Mince the garlic until semi-fine, making sure there are no bits that are larger than 1/8 of an inch. (Please mince it with a knife; do not use a garlic press, which will just turn your garlic into mush.)
Transfer the minced garlic into a small pot, and pour in the canola oil. Place the pot over a medium-low flame, and heat gently until the garlic starts to bubble and turn golden brown. This should take around 5-6 minutes. Do not rush the process, lest the garlic brown too quickly and burn. When the garlic is just a shade off golden brown, strain the garlic out of the oil, and place it on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil and let the fried garlic cool. Reserve the oil; do not throw it out! You can use the garlic oil for any stir- or pan-frying purposes, immediately adding more depth and aroma to dishes.
When cool, store the fried garlic bits in an airtight jar. It’ll stay crisp and fragrant for 2 weeks, if not longer. Spoon the garlic bits and oil atop salads, steaks, or even stir some into your soups and stews for a punchy dose of allium-atic fragrance.