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My father used to say, “Chuck doesn’t do anything in halves.” He was right: sometimes its a virtue and sometimes a curse. He and my mother taught me to cook, sometimes using cookbooks, like Julia Child's, but more frequently just winging it. This site is a roller coaster ride of recipes, articles, ingredients and anything else that involves cooking and presenting food. There is something here for everybody from beginners to experts.



Damn you Garlic!

Several hours ago I started researching garlic. All I wanted to know is if it is best to use just a little crushed garlic plain or if it makes sense to use a large amount of garlic rendered less pungent by adding lemon juice. So hours of reading later and I still don't know! Arggggghhhhh!

I already knew that the pungent smell in garlic is created within seconds of damage to the cells in the garlic bulb. When the cell is damaged, little spheres (Vacuoles) containing an enzyme called Alliinase are ruptured and this enzyme causes an odorless substance Alliin (Al-ee-in) to be converted into Allicin. Allicin, a sulfur containing chemical that very pungent, degrades into a number of other compounds. Many of these compounds possess anti-cancer, anti-microbial, and anti-fresh breath properties. If Alliinase is blocked by either heat or acid, no Allicin is produced, hence less pungency. A very similar reaction also occurs in onions.

I quickly found that the food based articles were full of gibberish and hog-wash, so I had to read the actual research articles. For example everybody likes to note that Allicin degrades very rapidly. However, at room temp its half-life is several days, however one study noted, if you expose it to pH>11(Drain Cleaner) or <1.5 (concentrated sulphuric acid) it is gone within 2 hrs. I guess the researchers thought this would be useful for recipes calling for drain cleaner or concentrated acid!

What I couldn't find is a good study of what happens chemically when you crush garlic and cook it or if you simply cook it without crushing it.

So here is what I learned:
1. Less cell damage = less pungency. If you crush garlic, or mince it, you get a very pungent result because you generate a great deal of Allicin. If you slice it, you get less pungency than when minced
2. Acid(lemon juice) or heat can prevent the formation of pungency. If you cook whole cloves of garlic, no pungency because Allicin was never produced. If you crush a clove of garlic by itself, it is super pungent but if you crush it in lemon juice, very little garlic flavor.
3. Cooking crushed garlic degrades the Allicin and into a large variety of volatile compounds that also smell garlicky but are not as pungent as Allicin .

I'm not sure what the take home message is other than you can spin your wheels for quite awhile reading about garlic. In the end it is necessary to test different methods of processing garlic and decide what works best for a given dish. If nothing else, you should now be able to bore people to tears whilst discussing the details of garlic chemistry. Work it into the conversation like this. "I love how you used lemon to diminish the pungency of Allicin in your appetizer." Wait for it.........."Uh what it Allicin?" Now its just a matter of setting the hook and reeling em in. "Glad you asked! Let me slow walk you through my 56 slide, fully animated, Powerpoint presentation. There will be time at the end for questions!" For extra effect, be sure to have a no. 2 pencil in hand in case they say, "I always use powdered garlic." Maintain a a polite smile while loudly breaking the pencil in your hand.

Update: I wondered, what happens if take the mix of crushed garlic and lemon juice and add it to less acidic food that neutralizes the acidity of the lemon juice; does the allinase become active in the higher pH, and suddenly create a tsunami of garlic pungency? There are research papers on this subject. Turns out that the Allinase is permanently deactivated by acid. However, and this is seriously important, if you make a batch of hummus and use many cloves of garlic, crushed in lemon juice, you have an enormous stockpile of Alliin that is not being converted into extreme pungency because you have disabled the Allinase with lemon juice. Once mixed into tahini and ground chick peas, the main ingredients of hummus, the pH increases. If you then add just a little fresh minced garlic to make it a little more "garlicky", the newly added Allinase will be fully active and that stockpile of Alliin will be converted somethingakin to a tactical thermonuclear garlic bomb.

Update: 9/15/2017 I experimented with using a garlic press to crush the garlic and then deactivating allinase with lemon juice. Waiting 30 seconds created a little more pungency than a wait of only 10 seconds. However, some garlic roasted in a microwave for 3 minutes at 40% power in covered pyrex bowl with water and olive oil was better; but still not as good as oven roasted, Next attempt will be to see if garlic cloves can be thrown into a small pan with water and oil to quickly create an oven quality result but much faster

**** Update: 9/16/2017 Very good results with doing the obvious...... sauté garlic in some oil or butter then add that to the hummus. What? Yes the best solution was to do exactly what you would do for any other garlicky dish.


Cooking Temps

Chicken breast 165

Chicken thigh 170 or more

Pork med well 145

Pork med 140

Rack of lamb med rare 131

Beef very rare 125

Beef rare 130

Beef med rare 135

Duck Breast 126

Salmon med 118

Disclaimer: USDA stds dictate much higher temps. To be super safe, cook everything until it is dry and crunchy