If you’ve ever wondered what smells so good in a kitchen, it’s probably the aroma of sauteed garlic. The lovely allium lends its pungent flavor and aroma to dishes from around the world.
Garlic is also one of the professional kitchen’s most beloved ingredients. In my years working “on the line”, I cut, sauteed, and seasoned with garlic on a daily basis. Now, I’m happy to pass that knowledge and experience on to you.
The Method: How to Cut Garlic
Follow along with these steps, and you’ll end up with finely minced garlic for all your favorite recipes.
Loosen the Bulb
When you buy a whole head of garlic, it can be tightly bound together. That means our first step has to be getting the bulb loosened up.
If your fingers are strong enough, you might be able to simply pry an individual clove out. But an easier way to do it is to turn the bulb on its side, apply pressure with the heel of your palm, and roll it on a table. Do this a few times and it will loosen up and yield its individual cloves.
Pull Out A Clove
There’s only one way to mince garlic: One clove at a time. So go ahead and use your work from the last step and pull out a single clove of garlic.
Smash That Clove With A Knife
That single clove is wrapped in a fibrous husk that you don’t want to cook with. But don’t try peeling it off with your fingertips just yet.
First, lay that clove down flat on your cutting board. Then grab your chef’s knife, and place the butt end of the blade over the clove. Using the heel of your palm, carefully press on the knife directly above the garlic clove.
Peel the Clove
The above steps will break up the clove’s coating, making it easy to remove. Get your fingertips to work at peeling the outer husk off of your garlic clove.
Hold the Clove Properly
Look at your garlic clove: It will have an end where the clove was attached to the bulb.
This is where you want to hold your garlic clove while you prepare to mince. Use your fingernails (or fingertips, if your nails are cut short) to securely hold the clove on your cutting board.
Moving slowly and taking your time, slice the garlic clove into thin rounds. Slow down as you approach the root end (and your fingertips), and concentrate on making even cuts.
Don’t be afraid to throw away a small portion of the end of the garlic clove here. The root end of garlic has a less pleasant texture, and I usually omit it from my dishes. This has the double benefit of keeping your fingertips at a safe distance from your knife’s edge.
Turn Your Garlic (Or Your Cutting Board)
Once you’ve sliced your garlic clove into rounds, turn the whole assemblage 90 degrees. If you’re working on a smaller cutting board, simply turn the board 90 degrees instead.
With your free hand safely out of the way, use a rocking motion to keep chopping your cut garlic. The more you chop, the finer the garlic will become — creating an even mince that will cook evenly in your recipe.
Ta-da! Minced Garlic
That’s it! You now have minced garlic ready for use.
When to Cut Garlic
To get the best flavor and aroma from your garlic, it’s important to chop it only as you need it. This means mincing your garlic within 30 minutes of the time you’ll be adding it to a dish. Though preferably you’ll chop it as close to when you need it as possible.
Other Ways to Prepare Garlic
It takes a lot of practice to be able to mince garlic quickly and effortlessly. If you’re not interested in putting dozens of hours of practice into your knife skills, here are four other common ways to prepare garlic:
Though you’ll see a rough chop used fairly often in the kitchen, it’s not great for garlic. The uneven pieces it produces will cook at different speeds, leaving you with some garlic overcooked and some almost raw. Not recommended for any recipe where you’re cooking the garlic.
Garlic is such a popular ingredient, there’s a whole tool designed just for it.
A garlic press like OXO’s Good Grips Garlic Press will make a fine mince out of whole cloves in no time. But the time you save on chopping often translates to more cleaning time, as garlic presses are difficult to fully clean. That’s why garlic presses are good for beginners, but most experienced chefs avoid them.
If you’re making a sauce or condiment that uses fresh garlic, a food processor is an excellent choice. The oil or water in the recipe will help the garlic move freely in the food processor, giving it an even consistency.
Mortar and Pestle
The old-school alternative to a food processor, a mortar and pestle uses a crushing motion to prepare rustic sauces and spreads. It’s more of a workout than using a knife or a food processor, but a mortar and pestle can make a very fine paste out of garlic. Good for people who want more traditional kitchen equipment.
What’s Next? Another Tool for Cutting Garlic
Last but not least, we turn to the cuisine most known for its garlic: Italian food.
Garlic and herbs are used so frequently in Italian cooking, they have a special tool for mincing them. Known as a mezzaluna, this curved knife is paired with a bowl-shaped cutting board for easy mincing. Check out our guide to the mezzaluna to learn everything you need to know about this classic Italian knife.