Chow Bella

AndyTalk: Garlic and Gadgetry

Welcome to AndyTalk -- where Scottsdale-based chef and cooking instructor Andy Broder will share kitchen tips, recipes and musings on food and life. This week: mincing garlic.

I get a fair number of questions about how to mince garlic. My answer is always the same. I mince garlic with a knife.

Most people who ask don't like the knife answer. Facial expressions and the slew of follow-up questions bear me out on this. I suspect that the frowners are hoping that I'll offer a secret chef's method for chopping garlic without getting garlic-scented fingers. Others hope I'll mention a gadget that they can rely on. There are lots of gadgets, but while I like my kitchen toys, there aren't any that I like to use with garlic. Sorry.

My least favorite gadgets are ones with a single function - and the worst of that ilk perform their one task with mediocrity. Why use a plastic tube to peel garlic? I can place the garlic on my cutting board, set the flat side of my knife on top, and hit the knife once. It takes just a few tries to learn how hard to hit the side of the knife (too hard and you get mashed garlic). Wham, bam, and no peel ma'am.

Those tubes work, but the knife is just as easy. And, the tubes are scary. Bits of mashed garlic and peel happily reside in the tube - unseen and, I fear, unwashed. My gut tells me that half of all tubes are rarely washed, and the ones that are washed are only rinsed, not sanitized.

Next in line for scrutiny (and hopefully my blessing) is the garlic press. A garlic press does a wonderful job of pulverizing garlic. The newer ones even have a sort of self-cleaning adaptation (that works reasonably well). Still, when garlic is pressed the result is a combination of garlic juice and garlic solids.

I prefer to use a knife. I get tiny bits of garlic that have all the juices inside. In recipes where I'm applying heat I think this is important. If I hold the press right over the hot pan when I squeeze I will be rewarded with a nearly instantaneous whiff of garlic. The juice turns to steam when it hits the pan, and half of my flavor literally goes up in a puff of smoke.

When I use a knife I end up with small pieces of garlic that have not been wrung dry. With knife-cut garlic it takes longer for the aroma to fill my kitchen, but it's better that way. The little bits of juice-intact garlic caramelize as they cook. I get food seasoned with the nutty flavor of cooked garlic.

The garlic press concept applies to a number of other gadgets.

No one really needs an all-in-one apple slicer/corer. The gadget is based on an average apple. It won't work on a huge apple and it's hard to get a small apple to line up. A knife is a one size fits all apple slicer. With a knife I can make the slices as thin or thick as I want. Everything I said about apple slicers also applies to pineapple peeler/corers.

Knives that never need sharpening are on my list of thanks-but-no-thanks gadgets. A knife that never needs sharpening is (in all likelihood) a knife that can't be sharpened. The steel (often cheap) is really hard, so it holds an edge for a long time. But, once it's dull it's nearly impossible to grind the diamond-hard knife back to sharpness. I'd rather have one good knife than a gimmicky set of cheap ones.

Last among my low expectations are gadgets hawked on any shopping network. I relate this with experience. I'm a frequent beneficiary of a relative's binge TV shopping. I never use the as-seen-on TV gadgets.

The Land-of-the-Giants syringe to infuse meat with flavor is cool to look at, but never used and donated to Goodwill. I can brine to achieve the same effect. The cake pan with moveable squares and a book of diagrams for cakes that, when sliced, have a pattern; never used and donated. The Neptune God-of-the-Sea six-pronged fork; never used but street-fight ready. This one I still have.

On the other hand, I've never regretted the dollars spent on a good knife. In fact, when people look at the tool chest in my kitchen they'll often ask: "is that a real tool chest?" Yes, and they're real tools. That chest is my ultimate gadget - it holds all the other gadgets. It's also kind of fun to know that if I wanted to mince words, I could opine about how my toolbox is bigger and better equipped than average.

Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.

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Andy Broder