You don’t have to claw at garlic with your fingers or smash it dramatically with the side of the knife to peel a perfect clove.
By Jessica Dang
Growing up, I’d see my dad whack cloves of garlic with the side of his big heavy cleaver, smashing them open with a thud. He’d then proudly strip away the peel with ease before chopping them up. It was unnecessarily dramatic, but, having been conditioned to seeing it done that way, that was how I subconsciously started “peeling” my garlic too.
Once, while cooking at a friend’s apartment, I started slamming the side of my knife into the garlic cloves with the heel of my hand. Bam! The table shook. Bam! The chopping board slid a little.
“Jess, what are you doing?” he asked, laughing, holding out his hand. I handed the knife to him.
He pressed down the side of the knife on top of the garlic cloves with considerable pressure. With the quietest sound, they flattened out and the peels eked off. No loud bams; same result. I told him the story about my dad’s method, explaining that I had unwittingly picked up the same technique. (When I need the cloves whole, however, I just slice off the wide end and use my fingernails to peel it off cleanly before slicing or whatnot.) It’s just that the loud bam brings back so many memories.
It reminded me of a Jewish story about a bride who prepared her grandmother’s brisket recipe for her husband and sliced off the end of the meat before sticking it into the oven, just as she had seen her bubby prepare it. Her husband asked: “Why do you slice off the end? That’s the best part!” In response, the bride exclaimed, “But it’s my grandmother’s secret!” During a visit with her grandmother, the bride asked why the ends of the meat were always cut off, to which the grandmother replied: “Why, Darling! That’s the only way it will fit into my pan!”
I’m not sure why my dad whacks the garlic cloves with such a purpose, but, in any case, I still give my garlic cloves a booming whack from time to time as an ode to our time in the kitchen together.