In one of my kitchen drawers there are at least six implements designed for the preparation of garlic. I can’t be more specific about the number because that drawer is one of those repositories of doom, where a lifetime of impulse buys reside and anything might turn up, except the precise gadget I’m searching for at any given time.
We buy them full of hope, of course, that this will be “the one”. The one and only garlic gadget. But then another comes along that promises to do more, be more efficient, and – the holy grail – do away with tricky cleaning requirements.
Neven Maguire, the chef and restaurateur who has designed a hugely commercially successful cookware range for Dunnes Stores, knows only too well how much us home cooks covet a clever contraption. More than 15,000 of the press and roll garlic crushers he designed for the range have sold, and another 25,000 are on order and due to arrive in stores in the next week or so.
“It’s definitely the most successful piece in the cookware range. For something so small it packs a punch,” he says. “Everyone wants it. You wouldn’t believe the amount of messages I get about it. One woman messaged me last night, saying ‘I’ve been to four Dunnes and there’s no garlic crusher, what’s the story Neven?’”
The gadget, which sells for €8, is a sturdy, hand-held device that is pressed down on to the garlic cloves and rolled back and forward, forcing the flesh through the small holes and resulting in a smashed puree. The attraction is obvious, there are no bits to go missing and it’s easy to clean.
At the other end of the market, Bob Toal, owner of the Triggerfish cookware shop in Blackrock, Co Dublin, favours the Garject device by Australian brand Dreamfarm which will set you back €40, in his shop or at triggerfishcookshop.ie.
“They’re a nice design. You can put two cloves in at a time and you don’t need to peel them. There is a little contraption that scrapes them off and a pusher which pushes out the skin.”
Shiniest and newest is not always best though, when it comes to garlic gadgets. Chef and television presenter Catherine Fulvio treasures what she calls her monster crusher.
“I’ve always been a little on the fence when it comes to garlic crushers, simply because I haven’t the patience to clean them afterwards. And then I discovered this monster crusher at a market in Italy years ago. To my utter joy, upon examination, I realised that this super-size garlic crusher was also a meat mallet, an olive pitter, a bottle opener, a nut crusher and general all-round ‘I just can’t live without you’ type of gadget.”
Fulvio has a few suggestions to make garlic prep less of a chore.
“I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to the trouble of chopping garlic, that you go big or go home. In other words, crush many garlic cloves in the one go. I store my crushed garlic in little freezer boxes (along with my chopped chilli, ready for the next stir fry).
“In Sicily, it’s very common to add olive oil, garlic and salt to a food processor and blend to a pulp. Place in a sterilised jar, keep the lid on so the aroma doesn’t permeate the fridge and use as needed,” Fulvio says.
Chef Aidan McGee also has a method for bulk prepping garlic, with the help of a blender.
“I use a chop button on my blender then confit it, [it] keeps for ages and cuts down on time when making dinner.”
To confit the garlic, the chef says: “Place two or three garlic bulbs (not cloves) in a blender and pulse, but not puree. Place them in a pan, cover with olive oil, bring to a low to medium heat, add a bay leaf and a small red chilli. Cook very gently for 30 minutes. Place in a Kilner jar and it’s good for three months.”
A Twitter call-out to ask what Irish cooks favoured for their garlic prep resulted in an overwhelming show of support for Microplane zesters, the popular US kitchen tool that derived originally from a woodworking rasp.
“They are one of the most, if not the most, popular item in the cookshop,” Toal says. These are widely available under the Microplane brand and others and cost between €20 and €30.
Food writer, TV chef and cookery tutor Rory O’Connell also favours the Microplane, but makes the point that how you process the garlic – slicing, chopping or pureeing – will influence the taste and pungency. The finer you chop or process it, the bigger the garlic hit.
In his cookbook, Master It, he says: “The reasons for crushing garlic are twofold. Garlic when raw and crushed to a paste is at its strongest and fiercest, and as a smooth paste will generally disappear into the dish it is being added to. I take the old-fashioned approach of a knife and a timber chopping board or a more contemporary approach with a Microplane. What I don’t use is a garlic press. I find them awkward, inefficient and wasteful.”
When using the Microplane O’Connell recommends not peeling the clove. “The papery skin will remain on the sharp side of the implement where it helps to protect your fingers from the bladed surface, while the crushed garlic is pushed through to the blunt rear.”
Purists, of course, will say that we have no need of gadgets to prepare garlic, all that’s required is a sturdy knife. There are two ways to go if you want to keep it simple and just use a knife: use the blunt side of the blade to pulverise the clove, or bash it with the flat side of the knife, then chop as finely as required, or add a bit of coarse salt to create friction, if you want a puree.
“I have lots of gadgets, but generally find them a pain to clean so no longer bother with them. The back of a knife with some coarse salt is my go-to,” says restaurant consultant Patrick O’Reilly.
They’re right, of course, but that won’t stop me buying the latest go-to garlic gadget that hits the market. Here are three to try:
Ikea Koncis garlic press, ikea.ie, €4
Millions of these simple gadgets have been sold worldwide. They are cheap, sturdy and effective. The inner chamber that holds the garlic can be removed to make for easy cleaning, but beware, it can also go missing with annoying frequency.
Oxo Good Grips garlic mincer, €21.95, thekitchenwhisk.ie
Food writer Lilly Higgins is a fan of this model and says “it is used pretty much every day”. Its sturdy, non-slip handles, in-built cleaner and generous capacity make this a popular choice.
Jamie Oliver garlic press-cutter, €24.95, arnotts.ie
Do two jobs with one gadget with this model that can both crush and finely slice garlic cloves. It’s a tempting proposition, with pureed garlic ready to add to sauces and dressings, and finely sliced for stir-fries and salads.