Puréeing Garlic By Hand
I don't have a garlic press. How do I crush a clove of garlic?
You poor dear. It is time for you to enter the world of chefs (and other serious cooks). Many do not use garlic presses, as convenient as they may be.
Most caosc* place a clove of garlic lovingly on a clean cutting board. They put the flat side of the blade of their chef's knife over the clove and – carefully – smack it with the palm of their free hand. They do it twice if the clove is stubborn, but usually once is enough to break the clove open, freeing most of the peel.
They put the knife down in a safe spot and peel off the clove's paper skin. If there is a woody bit at the base of the clove, they trim that off. If there is a green sprout in the middle of the clove, many take that out and throw it away. They say the sprout is bitter, although there is not universal agreement on that point. If they have other cloves to mash, they do so now.
Having collected their broken cloves, they put them in a pile on the cutting board and proceed to chop them with the blade of their chef's knife. Generally, they grasp the handle of the knife with one hand and carefully put the other hand on top of the blade near the tip, steadying the knife. Keeping the tip of the knife on the cutting board, they lift the handle repeatedly and bring the sharp edge of the blade down again and again on the cracked garlic, moving the knife in a sideways arc to chop as much of the garlic as possible (bits of it will try to run away). You may need to scrape the garlic bits into a pile a few times to cut most or all of it.
At any point, you may wish to lean the blade of the knife over at an acute angle and pull the blade over the garlic, pinning it between the blade and cutting board, and squishing it as you draw the blade over the garlic. Often casoc sprinkle the garlic with a bit of salt, especially coarse kosher salt, which bites into the garlic as you squish it with the blade of your knife. If you draw the blade over the garlic a few times, you wind up with the finest puree of mashed garlic, which you can scoop up on the edge of your knife and add to whatever you're making. If you are looking for identifiable bits of garlic, this last procedure is likely to take you too far.
If you master this technique (which is very easy), you can amaze and astound your friends and relatives from the first smack of your knife on the cutting board, in a way that no mere garlic press ever can. As with any use of a knife, you have to be careful, but one hand holds the handle and your free hand is never touching the sharp edge of the blade. It either smacks the flat of the blade (keeping away from the sharp edge) or steadies the dull edge.
To those who love garlic presses, no offense is meant; we support your continued use of a garlic press, but this is a useful skill to have when you are visiting others, at the beach house, or away from home at a major cooking competition. The added benefit is that you don't have to clean the garlic press, which can be a challenge.
There are people who will tell you that you get more flavor (or a harsher flavor) when you use a garlic press, because of the way it breaks cell walls and releases the juices. We don't notice much difference.
*chefs (and other serious cooks)
Roasting Chopped Garlic
Using Up (Aged) Garlic
Difference: Head vs. Clove of Garlic
Roasted Garlic Aioli
Roasted Garlic Puree
Sopa De Ajo
Garlicky Mashed Potatoes
California Garlic Soup Fondue