It's a prejudice I've held for a long, long time. I've always believed that whether garlic is minced or crushed has a significant effect on the dish the garlic flavors. While I've always felt that minced or sliced garlic is far, far superior to its crushed counterpart when it comes to pasta sauces, I've also wondered in the back of my head if this preference was purely a figment of my imagination. Then, way back in January, a thread popped up on LTH Forum wherein there was a lively discussion regarding whether alternate means of breaking down garlic affected the character of the flavor, or merely its strength. The suggestion was also made that microplaning garlic, which I had never tried, might achieve a minced garlic flavor with a crushed garlic potency. At that time, I resolved to approach this question in a semi-scientific manner. It... uh... took a little while, but I finally got around to it this evening. As such, without further ado, I present my semi-scientific findings.
Question, Purpose, Hypothesis
The subject of this experiment is the effect that various methods of breaking down garlic have on its flavor when used to prepare a dish. The hypothesis is that not only does mincing garlic create a different flavor than crushing it, but also that mincing is the preferred method for pasta sauces. Furthermore, the experiment is intended to determine if microplaning garlic achieves a character different from mincing or crushing.
The following items were used to perform this experiment:
• 1 8" Le Creuset cast iron skillet
• 1 wooden spatula
• 1 chef's knife
• mortar & pestle
• 1 microplane
• 1 measuring cup
• 1 measuring spoon
• Raineri silver extra virgin olive oil
• Carmelina San Marzano tomato puree
• 12 garlic cloves
• coarse sea salt
To simulate a real-world application, three quick tomato sauces were prepared, each utilizing a different preparation of garlic. The garlic used for each version of the sauce was made from four cloves of approximately equal size. The first sauce was made with garlic that was finely minced using a chef's knife. The second sauce was made with garlic that was very finely shredded using a microplane grater. The third sauce was made with garlic that was crushed using a mortar and pestle. Other than the garlic preparation, every effort was made to ensure that the sauces were prepared in exactly the same manner. A test batch of tomato sauce was first made and discarded so that all three sauces would be prepared with a warm skillet. The following steps were common to all three sauces. First, the pan was washed, dried and set over medium-low heat. 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil was added to the pan, and allowed to heat for one minute. The garlic was added to the pan and sauteed while being mixed with the wooden spatula. After 30 seconds, 1/2 C. tomato puree and 1/2 tsp. salt were added to the pan, the sauce was stirred, and the heat increased to medium. As soon as the sauce showed signs of bubbling, the heat was turned to low, and the sauce was allowed to simmer, undisturbed, for exactly five minutes. The sauce was transferred to a small prep bowl, the skillet was washed and dried, and the entire process was repeated for the other two garlic preparations.
When all three sauces were prepared, they were allowed to sit at room temperature for ten minutes. After this time, they were placed atop ramekins containing a scrap of paper identifying the garlic preparation used for that sauce. They were then covered with plastic wrap and allowed to sit at room temperature for approximately one hour, to lessen the chance of the order of preparation affecting the flavor at the time of tasting. After sitting for an hour, the finished sauces were microwaved for ten seconds. This was to achieve two purposes, first to heat them slightly, and second so that the microwave turntable could randomize their placement, making it impossible for the taster to identify which sauce was which. The sauces were then tasted in sequence twice, to lessen the variation caused by tasting one sauce cleanly while tasting the others having come off another sauce. They were tasted in very low light conditions, to make it impossible for the taster to identify the sauces by the very slight variations in appearance. A small piece of plain bread was eaten in between each tasting to act as a palate cleanser. After the tasting was completed, the prep bowls were removed from the ramekins so that tasting notes could be matched up with the appropriate garlic preparations.
The minced garlic sauce had a fairly strong garlic flavor, which was described by the taster as sweet, mellow and slightly tart and spicy. The crushed garlic sauce had a garlic flavor that was similar to the minced garlic sauce in terms of potency, but different in terms of character. The taster described the crushed garlic sauce as fairly sour up front, with a slightly spicy but mostly bitter tail and an almost metallic aftertaste. The microplaned garlic sauce was by far the strongest of the three, characterized as extremely potent. The taster described it as having a very spicy and peppery flavor, with a little bitterness and no detectable sweetness. In terms of preference, the taster expressed a very strong preference for the minced garlic sauce, which was described as delicious. The crushed garlic sauce was described as edible, but not very good. The microplaned garlic sauce was described as very bad, and not at all pleasant.
This experiment has helped to erase any lingering doubts I had about my convictions when it comes to sliced or minced versus crushed garlic. In fact, I was surprised to discover that the difference between the minced and crushed garlic sauces was even more significant than I had previously thought. The crushed garlic wasn't bad, but it was an obvious difference and far less desirable for any pasta sauce application that I can think of offhand. However, I think it's important to note that the crushed garlic flavor wasn't necessarily bad in general, it was simply inappropriate in this context. The microplaned garlic, however, was an entirely different matter. It was considerably stronger, to be sure, but it was also a very different character. It was not at all pleasant. While there are clearly applications for crushed garlic, I have a much harder time imagining a a recipe for which I'd use the microplaned garlic.
I await peer review.