How to Make Pickled Garlic

Garlic, Pickled

If you’re wondering why anyone would ferment garlic, let me just say a toddler will pop five in a row and ask for more. “Garlic? Garlic?! Yesss?!!”

Ingredients

10 heads garlic 32 oz. glass jar with lid (or similar)
1 + 1/4 c. water 1 T. salt
1 T. whey 2 t. spices – follow your heart
1 grape leaf or oak leaf (optional)

Prep time: 25 min · Start to finish: 1 hr · Keeps: indefinitely

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 300º F. Remove outer paper from garlic heads and place in baking dish. Bake about 45 minutes (or until “they open,” or if they don’t, until one of the bigger cloves peels easily and tastes mild in the center).

2. In a bowl, mix salt, water, whey and spices.

3. Smooth the leaf (if using) up against the inner wall of the glass jar.

4. Take garlic out of the oven when ready. Remove the peels, careful not to bruise the cloves.

5. Gently fill the jar with them, jostling them down to get a tight pack.

6. Cover with brine. If garlic isn’t fully covered, add extra water. Screw on the lid and leave it out at room temperature for some days, maybe even as long as a week or two, until a taste-test yields not just saltiness, but pickledness. When in doubt, wait.

7. When not in doubt, move jar to fridge and start using.

Explanations

If you don’t bake the garlic, it’ll taste really sharp. Even after fermentation, unbaked garlic positively stings the tongue. Also, it’s hard to peel raw garlic without bruising the cloves. Bruised garlic, when fermented, tastes fine and is still good for you (I assume), but it has the texture of a rotted thing.

Don’t bake it too long. If you do, it’ll get caramelized, soft and oozing. That’s nice if you’re going to eat it hot with Brie melted all over it, but for pickling, we want tender but firm.

Where it comes to brine, the ratio is 4 tablespoons of good salt for every 5 cups water. You can use this ratio to brine a chicken, pickle cucumbers and preserve pretty much anything. It also tastes good.

If you’re stuck on the “add whey” part of this recipe, and you don’t happen to have half a gallon of whey in your refrigerator right now, it’s going to be okay. Get yourself a tub of plain, live yogurt, scoop out a spoonful, leave the rest undisturbed, and set it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, liquid will pool up in the hole. That’s whey. Use it.

Technically, the grape or oak leaf is to impart tannins for crisper cloves. Aesthetically, it’s to impart beauty. I’ve gotten good results with and without it.

When I say to cover the garlic in water completely, that’s to make sure that all the culturing that takes place in the jar is the kind you want, rather than mold and stuff.

How long you let it sit out depends on the climate of your kitchen. In mine, six or seven days is enough. For you, who knows? Just taste it once in a while. At first it’ll taste bland and salty. Then you won’t know what to think. Finally it’ll develop an emergent, sour something that’s very pleasing. I know it’s scary to taste-test foods that are busy fermenting, but please don’t end the wait prematurely. Those live cultures are preservatives that stave off spoilage. Like love, if you’re not sure it’s happened yet, it hasn’t happened yet.

When you’re happy with it, move it to cold storage — your fridge or cellar. This slows the live cultures down so the pickled garlic will keep, not forever, but indefinitely. (The jar I’m on right now got passed around a couple times among friends and eventually ended up in my hands. It’s about two years old and still really good.)

How to serve it? You can snack on it as is. Otherwise just use it wherever you’d normally use garlic. Before I started fermenting, I was a big fan of your standard sautéed garlic, which I’d add to everything. Only after finishing up my first jar of pickled garlic did I notice I hadn’t touched my stash of raw dried garlic since the pickling began.

But to be specific, I use pickled garlic most often in salads and pasta dishes, diced up and mixed in. I also add it to soups, spreads, scrambled eggs, homemade liver paté and savory foods in general. It adds a pleasant little bit of salt, plus that something extra, the slightly-sour complexity of a fermented food. It’s really hard to go wrong with it.