Q: How do I get that rich, pungent garlic flavour?
The first boxes of Australian Garlic are appearing at the Sydney Markets and though the season wont be in full swing for another 3-4 weeks, it is a welcome sight for chefs and foodies.
Garlic was introduced to Australia by early European migrants and in the 70s and 80s the local industry was growing steadily. This changed in the 1990s when cheap Chinese garlic begin to flood the Australian market and despite its smaller size and significantly lower quality, it hamstringed local farmers who couldn’t compete on price. Nowadays, local product accounts for only 10-20% of the garlic consumed in Australia, a very small piece of a big garlicky pie, with Australians putting away approximately 3,500 tonnes of fresh garlic each year.
Recently there has been a renewed interest in sourcing locally grown garlic due to its freshness and fuller flavour. To allow for import, garlic produced overseas is treated with various chemical pesticides and growth retardants. Between these treatments and the time it takes to reach our shores, imported garlic tends to have a less intense flavour and spongy texture.
The Australian garlic season runs from October to May with the main growing regions being SA, VIC ,NSW with some early crops from QLD.
There are a number of white, pink and purple garlic varieties available which can be grouped into either the hard or soft necked categories. Soft necked varieties are stalkless with large bulbs. The most common varieties, their flavour ranges from very mild to very hot and lack the subtle but more complex flavors of the hardneck varieties. Hard-necked varieties have a hard stalk, are smaller than soft-necked varieties and have fewer but larger cloves that are easier to peel.
There is a lot of confusion in the market over the names of garlic varieties being produced in Australia, but here are some of the more widely recognizable varieties.
When: Mid Season
What: Soft neck originally from France, this is now one of the most popular varieties in Australia and NZ. Medium to large, it is white with 15-20 cloves per bulb. Stores well and has a rich flavour
When: Mid Season
What: Californian type, large white bulb and cloves- selected in SA
When: Late Season
What: Soft neck variety from cooler states- stores well. Dark pink skin with large bulb and lots of small cloves
When: Mid Season
What: Older soft neck variety that is medium to large and white-cream. It stores well and has 10-20 cloves
When: Early season
What: Medium sized hard-neck variety with thin pink-purple skin. Stores well.
When: Mid-Late Season
What: Not a true garlic, this is closer to a leek and has a mild flavour. It has a large solid bulb and can be baked/roasted and included in a dish whole.
What: Large white bulbs that are quite symmetrical, many predict this will soon be nipping at the heels of Printanor
When: Early Season
What: Hard necked QLD selection with well-formed white bulbs that have a slight purple tinge. 6-12 cloves per bulb.
TRENDS TO WATCH:
Spring Garlic: (Available October)
Flavour: Mild garlic taste
Use: Entire plant. Just trim root ends and the tough parts of the green leaves.
Background: Harvested before the bulb is formed. Look for specimens with fresh green tops (no dried ends or soggy leaves).
Green Garlic: (Available November)
Flavour: Mild- stronger than green onion but milder than mature garlic
Use: Entire bulb- skin and all. Just trim root ends and the tough parts of the green leaves.
Background: Green garlic is pulled prematurely when the stalk is fully green and the bulb has only a hint of cloves.
Flavour: Mild garlic flavour, less pungent.
Use: Edible part is the stem, used in stir fries, soups or as a garnish
Background: Usually imported into Australia. These should be 10-20cm long and have no sign of bulb swelling
A: The key to a rich garlic flavour is freshness. Similarly to wasabi, the flavour and aroma of garlic is caused by the chemical reaction that takes place when its cells are broken down. This flavour is at its most intense shortly after the reaction takes place, therefore it is best not to prepare garlic too far in advance.
Different methods of cooking also influence the flavour of garlic. To achieve an intense garlic taste, the maximum amount of oil needs to be released; therefore pressing, crushing and mincing are the best means of preparation to get this result. Meanwhile, chopping is good for stir fries and slicing is good for bringing that light garlic flavour to your dish.