You take the garlic clove in your hands. You strip off the skin. You look at it lying there vulnerable and ready.
Now what do you do?
Titillating language aside, there are a couple of options for processing garlic – the first approach is timeless, simple and low tech, the venerable kitchen knife. The other option involves a more trendy “high tech” tool called a garlic press.
Are Garlic Presses Necessary?
The first and natural question is – are garlic presses necessary? The answer depends on a couple of factors.
First, are you comfortable handling a knife and are your knife skills, or lack thereof, making you less apt to pick up a knife.
Second, are you the type of person who eschews a single function kitchen tool?
If you don’t feel comfortable using a knife, then yes, garlic presses are useful and convenient.
However if you are a strong supporter of the no-single-purpose-tool rule, then maybe presses are not for you.
I sit squarely into both camps. While I am comfortable using a knife and I favor keeping equipment in the kitchen to a minimum, there are times when a single purpose tool is helpful.
Chopping Garlic with a Knife
First, I want to cover how easy it is to chop garlic with a knife and then talk about the presses. Using a knife to chop garlic is the age-old solution for any desired result – chopping, dicing, mincing or creating paste. If you want to create coarsely chopped or sliced garlic, then a knife is your first and best choice. Presses create a fine mince that borders on paste and with a couple of exceptions, cannot create slices from individual cloves.
Dice, Slice or Julienne
To dice or slice garlic, remove the skin by pressing down on the clove with your hand or the flat portion of the knife blade or you can also use a garlic peeler . You may want to use the garlic peeler if you intend to slice or julienne the garlic as it keeps the clove whole while removing the skin. To keep the clove whole, you could also cut off the stem end with a knife and peel back the skin.
Next, make sure the clove is lying as flat as possible, even if that means slicing it in half first. You then make several cuts lengthwise to the desired thickness. If your goal is slices, then you are done. You then make more lengthwise cuts throughout the clove to create sticks or julienne shapes, again if that is what you intended, you are done. To create a dice – slice crosswise across the sticks to make diced chunks of the size you want.
As with many foods, the smaller the dice or mince, the more flavor extraction will occur sooner. So if you are preparing a dish that will cook for a long time, such as a tomato sauce, you would want to use a larger dice or slice. This is a matter on individual taste; some people prefer a slightly stronger, more bitter punch from their garlic while others prefer a milder hint.
As to which knife to use for chopping garlic, that depends on how much garlic is to be chopped and how finely. If one is chopping or slicing one or two cloves, then a paring or utility knife could be used. However if you are chopping many cloves or going for a much smaller dice you might want either a Chef’s knife of 8″ or 10″ in length or a Santoku style knife.
To mince garlic, simply put the skinned garlic clove as flat as possible on the cutting board, lay the wide portion of the blade on top of the clove and smash it with your hand. Then grip your knife as you normally would and begin to quickly mince the garlic with a series of chopping/rocking motions back and forth.
Personally I find this the fastest most effective method, but then I am comfortable using a knife and since I am doing meal prep anyway, I probably already have the knife out. Additionally, using a knife means one less thing to clean later.
You can also easily make a paste from the garlic which is often used in Indian cooking or as an ingredient for marinades or salad dressings. To create the paste, you use the flat portion of the knife, preferably a larger Santoku or Chef knife, to smash the garlic using the widest, flat portion of the blade. Then using a dragging or scraping motion across the board, continue mashing and smashing the garlic back and forth until the desired consistency is achieved.
A knife and a good wooden cutting board are all one needs to prepare garlic. It will also prove to be the least expensive way to prepare garlic, as most of us already own a functional kitchen knife. Using your knife for prepping garlic also means one less tool to store away in a drawer, which is probably already overcrowded.
I would be remiss if I forget to mention the mezzaluna blade that can also be used for creating a small mince or chopping.
The mezzaluna blade generally is used with a wooden board which may or may not have a bowl shaped impression carved into one side. While you cannot perform all the tasks with garlic that you can with a Chef’s knife, mezzaluna knives are useful for all manner of general purpose chopping and mincing, so it is not a single use tool.
Without further ado, let’s talk presses. The main purpose of a garlic press is to press a clove(s) through the device to produce a mince like state. Some, like Mr. Alton Brown, say that the presses actually smash the garlic in an structurally unappealing way, similar to what others say potato ricers do to potatoes. Never the less, a mince is the end result.
A traditional garlic press consists of two long handles hinged at the top where one of the handles has a basket shaped end with holes in it where the garlic is placed and the other handle has a fixed or free-swinging flat end or plunger that will fit into the basket to push the garlic through the holes.
Note: operation of this tool is dependent on personal hand strength. If you have some form of arthritis or other malady that causes you to have weak grip or limited hand strength then you will find using a garlic press difficult. However, a couple of companies have designed presses that require less force, where you use body weight to push down on the press vice a squeeze grip. It still may be too difficult to use, depending on the degree of discomfort in your joints.
Most garlic presses will come equipped with a plastic cleaning piece designed to fit over the basket portion of the press, counter matching the holes which helps push out the remaining garlic skins from the basket. This is cleaning piece makes the final clean up much easier.
Presses come in variety of materials, some are heavy duty plastic, some stainless steel and others die-cast metal, the latter styles are typically coated to prevent odors and staining.
Generally the basket volume is the same, but all will vary slightly in size and should allow you to press a couple of cloves at once.
The keys to a good press are the hinge strength and basket thickness. If the hinge is weak or flimsy, it won’t last long nor be able to generate sufficient force to function well. The thickness of the inner basket wall also plays a part, if it is too thick, garlic will be stuck in the holes resulting in less garlic in the dish and making clean up more difficult.
Using a press is quite easy, simply put the peeled clove(s) in the basket end, line up the plunger and squeeze the two handles together, pressing the garlic through the holes into the pot or container. The moisture or juice and the pure garlic heart will be pressed through the basket leaving tough skins behind. Some people like to scrape the remaining garlic out of the basket, others like to leave it out valuing the inner portion more.
I recommend peeling the garlic prior to pressing, but presses are designed to work with either skin on or off. I prefer to skin the cloves first as I feel the tough outer skin can interfere with the extraction.
For the sake of product longevity and to reduce potential odor residues, rinse the press with running water as soon as possible after using. If you wait too long to clean it out, the remaining garlic solids and juice dry, becoming more difficult to clean.
There are many companies who make garlic presses and the number who do grows every year. Presses come in varying price ranges and of course not all kitchen shops or retail stores will carry every brand.
The list below is not 100% inclusive, it only includes the models and brands I am familiar with at the moment.
If you become a frequent visitor here, you will find I don’t provide starred ratings or hierarchical recommendations. However, based solely on product construction and quality of materials, there are some I like more than others.
I believe the Rosle brand to be one of the best presses available. While it is more expensive than most, it has a very sturdy all stainless steel body, an highly effective press motion which extracts a large amount garlic with minimal effort. It has a looped hole at one end to allow it to be hung on a hook for easy access, a Rosle signature design. This press is very easy to clean by hand or in the dishwasher. The Rosle garlic press would be my first choice.
After the Rosle, I like Zyliss Jumbo Garlic Press; it has a very strong hinge, solid die cast body that will last for a long time, it presses easily and efficiently. I like the basket cleaner that comes with the press which is used to help with the clean up process. When not in use, the cleaner attachment stores easily in the handle area.
If I had to pick a third choice, it would be the Kuhn Rikon Epicurean garlic press. There are comments floating around the internet that say it is easy to pinch your finger with this model. I have never experienced this, but careful use should prevent this problem. The Epicurean has all stainless-steel construction, like the Rosle, which allows for quick, efficient pressing action. It is designed to fit comfortably into the palm of the hand and requires less effort to use than some other less expensive presses. Like the other “favored” models, the Epircurean is easy to clean under running water and can also be cleaned in the dishwasher.
After these three, the other brands fall into the same general class. They work well enough and will serve your purposes, but probably won’t last as long or work as effectively.
One press does differentiate itself from the pack in that it can both press and in a separate basket “slice” garlic. The slice and press combination from AMCO Houseworks has innovative versatility but I am not convinced the quality is such that it will be as durable as my favorites.
The Alligator Mini Cutter works well for garlic, but produces a mini-julienne vice a mince or dice. The Alligator, like the Cuisipro Countertop garlic press, is an ergonomic, body weight press versus grip powered.
About the only ones I am not fond of are the twist styles of Garlic Genius and the Chef’n Garlic Machine Garlic Press. The additional twisting effort to provide the same basic result doesn’t seem necessary; they are also harder to clean. They have their fans, I am just not one of them.
In short, garlic presses work as expected, but on a day in day out basis, I will still reach for a knife when I want to chop or mince garlic. Garlic presses create a single result and take up valuable drawer space, but they are quick and easy to use. There have been many times when I have forgotten to prep the garlic and I have reached for the garlic press to save the day.
There are other products which can also “chop” garlic, but they are part of another article available here. These larger more involved chopping tools have the ability to chop food other than just garlic.
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