Sunday, September 7, 2003

Serve it this week: Garlic

By Wanda A. Adams
The Honolulu Advertiser

Certain foods achieve a reputation for being so wonderful that too much is never enough. Garlic is one, butter is another and lately foie gras has become the overused ingredient du jour.

What prompted this garlic diatribe was the arrival on my desk of a new edition of The Garlic Lovers' Cookbook (Celestial Arts; $12.95) compiled by Gilroy Garlic Festival Association. Not that there's a thing wrong with this book. The recipes, compiled from more than 20 years of Garlic Festival cooking competitions are well-tested, many are quite simple and interesting and - here's a shocker - most don't call for 10 bulbs of garlic.

Some background: In the 1970s, when the foodie trend was in its infancy, garlic was viewed as a pretty out-there ingredient.

Most home cooks didn't use fresh garlic and a few grains of garlic salt or garlic powder qualified a recipe as "exotic."

I vividly remember, about this time, coming across James Beard's famous recipe for Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic and experiencing a gourmet epiphany when I realized that roasting garlic is an alchemy on the order of turning mustard into butter.

In those unsophisticated days, "gourmet" (the word foodie hadn't been invented) too often translated into "the one who knows more about cooking than you do and delights in shocking you with weird food preferences or combinations."

The Gilroy Garlic Festival was founded in 1979 in a garlic-growing region in Northern California, and it was a smash hit from day one, attracting 15,000 people when 5,000 were expected and becoming an immediate media darling.

Unfortunately, the festival became a place where the "never too much" idea blossomed and grew like a, well, a "stinking rose" - a name for garlic that the festival helped to popularize.

Here's my point: Garlic, however distinctive and important, is an ingredient like any other.

Except on occasion, it is not meant to dominate all other flavors in a dish.

It must not be incinerated in too-hot oil until dark brown and bitter (as entirely too many of the Italian restaurants routinely do), but rather sweated slowly so that it "melts."

You must learn when to mince garlic, when to mash or press it, when to slice it and when to roast it to get the best effect in various recipes.

And, no matter what Emeril says or does, there is such a thing as too much.

Casserole-Roasted Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

1 whole chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)

Olive oil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemeary, crumbed.

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 lemon, quartered

3 heads garlic, cloves separated but not peeled

11/4 cups chicken stock or broth

1 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons minced parsley or finely shredded basil or 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme,

tarragon or rosemary

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Remove neck and giblets from chicken; rinse and pat chicken dry. Rub skin generously with olive oil.

Mix dried thyme, sage, salt, rosemary and black pepper. Rub this mixture into body cavity of chicken and over the skin. Place quartered lemon in body cavity. Truss chicken, if desired, and arrange bird breast side up in a casserole. Cover chicken and refrigerate 2 to 24 hours. Before cooking, position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Scatter garlic cloves in the casserole with chicken. Add chicken stock and white wine. Bring liquid in casserole to boil on top of stove, cover and place in oven for 25 minutes. Remove cover and increase oven heat to 450 degrees. Roast chicken another 35 to 60 minutes, until thermometer in thigh registers 170 degrees, or until juices run clear from thigh. While roasting, make sure there is always a little liquid in bottom of casserole. Add more wine or chicken stock if needed.When chicken tests done, remove it and garlic from casserole and keep warm. Skim as much fat as possible from casserole with spoon. Simmer casserole juices a few minutes to concentrate flavor, if needed. Remove casserole from heat and stir in chopped, fresh herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cut chicken into serving pieces and arrange on a platter. Spoon pan juices over it and scatter garlic cloves around it. (Guests squeeze roasted garlic out of skins before eating.)

Makes 4 to 5 servings.

- Joy of Cooking (Scribner; $30)


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