The How-To Kitchen: Chopping Garlic

Casey Barber

by Casey Barber on July 26, 2009

My dear sister, my only sibling, is no slouch in the kitchen. She can out-cookie me at Christmastime by a mile and has no problem plowing through recipes like hamburger buns, empanadas, or tomato tarts. So imagine my surprise when I had her help me prep for a barbecue earlier this month and realized she was time-consumingly slicing garlic into coins and then mincing each slice into tiny squares, one by one.

Sister and public, there is an easier way! And it doesn’t require a garlic press or any other fancy tools—truth be told, I subscribe to the Alton Brown school of thought on cooking implements and try not to buy tools that can’t be used for multiple purposes.

First, peel your clove. If the “skin” is particularly thick, you can place the clove on the cutting board and smash it with the side of your knife, then remove the papery husk. If the skin is already peeling away easily, take it off and then smash that puppy flat.

Next, slice off the bulb end and remove the germ from the garlic. This is the thicker, tougher cylindrical piece in the center of the clove, and is the part that can impart bitter flavors to your dish, especially if the garlic is old and the germ is green and sprouting.

garlic germ

see the germ in the middle? It's not green in this particular clove.

Now, the most important step and the one that will serve you well in your future cooking endeavors: slice the smushed clove into long shards—essentially a very fine julienne—using your knife in a rocking motion. See the video below and note the placement of my fingers on the knife handle. For maximum utility, grab the knife with thumb and forefingers where the blade meets the handle instead of extending your pointer finger out over the blade. This makes the knife less of an external tool and more of an extension of your arm.

knife grip

Once your clove is nicely slivered, pile the pieces up, turn them sideways, and mow down the pile with the same rocking motion. I am doing this very slowly in the videos for educational purposes but once you’ve got the motion down, you can pick up speed and get through half a bulb of garlic in no time.

If you need a smoother paste for your dish, sprinkle a little kosher salt on your pile of minced pieces, and do the smash and rub with the side of your knife a few times—what you’re doing here is basically the same job as a mortar and pestle, only without dirtying another piece of kitchen equipment.

Bonus: when you’re done with your garlic, you can use it to make extra-garlicky mushrooms, my no-fail carbonara, or a simple compound butter.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tessa July 29, 2009 at 10:02 am

I admit your way is much better and looks more professional to boot… but I wasn’t cutting each coin into slices–I was cutting each clove into slices and holding it together and then cutting it the other way.

I like this blog!

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Carol August 2, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Or you could cut it like Grandma Chiodo … quarter the clove and wait to see who starts swearing on Sunday afternoon when they bite into a piece of garlic the size of a small nut.

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Casey August 2, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Carol – ha! Most likely, it would be Dan and his sensitive little tastebuds.

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