This all started when I was in the local restaurant-supply store and saw three-pound bags of fresh garlic for some ridiculously cheap price. So of course I had to get a bag, then went to work figuring out how to keep all that garlic fresh.
My first thought was to chop it up, cover it in oil, and store it in the fridge. You can buy it that way, so why not DIY it?
In a word, botulism.
Garlic stored in oil creates the perfect low-acid anaerobic environment for botulism to grow, and there isn’t a reliable way for home cooks to acidify the mixture enough to make it safe to keep for a long time, even in the fridge. You can keep it for a few days, but not much longer than that. Which is not very helpful when you have three pounds of garlic sprouting in your crisper drawer.
So I came up with this method for chopping the whole mess up with some oil, freezing it in small portions, then thawing small quantities that I can use up in a few days.
First, separate the bulbs into cloves, then peel the cloves.
(There’s a nifty method here for peeling a whole bulb at a time, but I can never get it to work for me. I grab a handful of cloves, put them on my cutting board, mash each one with the side of my big knife, and peel the skin off. Yes, it’s a pain.)
IMPORTANT TIP: USE GLOVES IF YOU ARE HANDLING THIS MUCH GARLIC.
The first time I did this, I wound up Googling a few hours later trying to find out what the hell was happening to my hands and WHY ARE THEY ON FIRE. Turns out that having raw garlic on your skin for a long time can give you a sort of burn, similar to what you can get from chilies. I’ve got a whole box of latex gloves that I’m trying to use up, so I use those and change them when they get too sticky with garlic (and here’s a question: should I ask partner why he had a whole box of latex gloves when we moved in together, or is this liable to provide me with information I would rather not know?)
Throw a bunch of the peeled cloves into the food processor, add a big glug of oil (I usually use canola), and process to a fine paste.
Lay two overlapping sheets of plastic wrap over a muffin tin, making sure you’ve got some extra hanging over the edges–it’s going to get pulled in when you fill the wells in the pan. Make sure your freezer is big enough to accommodate your pan!
Put a dollop of the garlic mash into each well–remember, it needs to be a small enough amount that you can get through it in a few days–starting with the middle ones in the pan. Use a spoon or spatula to smooth each dollop into a nice disk.
Cover the pan with another sheet of plastic wrap (if you don’t, your freezer will smell like an Olive Garden for about six months . . . ASK ME HOW I KNOW THIS) and lay flat to freeze.
When the disks are frozen solid, you can peel them off the plastic and put them into a freezer bag.
When you run out of garlic, you can just pull out one of the disks, put it into a jar, and store it in the fridge. The disks I freeze in my standard-size muffin tin fit perfectly into a half-pint canning jar, but a jam jar would also work (I don’t store garlic in plastic because I doubt I’d ever be able to get the smell out afterwards). I use about half a teaspoon of minced garlic for each clove called for in recipes.
Here’s the thing, though: freezing small quantities of cooking ingredients that are cheaper to buy in bulk works for LOTS of things, not just garlic.
I also use this method to freeze jalapenos, which I can buy dirt cheap in bulk during the summertime, but don’t use every day.
I cut the ends off, halve the chilies, cut out the core inside, rinse out any remaining seeds, then process. You can add some water, but I don’t find it necessary. (I probably don’t have to remind you to wear gloves for this, keep your hands away from your face, and wash really well afterward, right?)
Because recipes tend to call for one or two jalapenos, I freeze them with one chili per well in the muffin tin (that is, if I started with eight jalapenos, I divide my jalapeno mush into eight wells, and, because I can be absent-minded, I keep the stems on my cutting board to remind me how many I had to begin with).
And I’ve already written about chopping up fresh ginger in the food processor and freezing it in one tablespoon portions (with a little water or stock).
Other ingredients to keep in your freezer:
— When a recipe calls for one tablespoon of tomato paste (CURSES BE UPON YOU RECIPE WRITER), you can freeze the rest of the can in one tablespoon portions on a silicone mat or piece of foil placed on a baking sheet. Again, be sure the pan will fit in your freezer first!
— Save vegetable peels and other scraps in a big freezer bag, then turn them into vegetable stock. I freeze stock in canning jars, which you aren’t supposed to do, because I am a REBEL. If you do this–you rebel you–make sure and leave plenty of space at the top of the jar. You still may crack a few, but the good news is they don’t make a mess when they crack because the stuff inside is already frozen by that point.
— Make chicken or turkey stock from bones and scraps. Best way to do it is to cover with water and simmer on low all day, but if you can’t manage that, you can cook it on low in a slow cooker for 24 hours. Strain, chill, remove the fat on the top (or save it, I don’t judge), and freeze in one or two cup portions.
— You can also use a small silicone ice cube tray like the one above to freeze fresh herbs–fill the wells with about one tablespoon chopped herbs, then fill with oil, water, or stock.
— I just clicked over to see what Beth is up to, and lo and behold, she is freezing garlic bread in individual slices, a great idea for folks who live alone. I had to LOL at this sentence, though: “I’ve made my own garlic bread in the past and it’s to die for, but when do I ever need a whole loaf at once?” Answer: ALWAYS.