Back in Black
Sometimes the best things come out of the simplest ingredients. Milk and vinegar make cheese, flour and water turn into pasta, yet three simple ingredients have turned into a new phenomenon written on menus across the nation. Fermented black garlic is popping up on menus around Buffalo as the new kid in town. From Oliver’s, Mike A, Tabree, and Encore, local chefs are excited about the product produced from sugar, salt, and garlic.
Chefs were introduced to the product made stateside in the mid 2000’s. Scott Kim started blackgarlic.com in 2004 and its list of chef fans began to swell. My friend Judy from Terra Spice brought the product to our attention in Chicago. She brought it to us to play with something new and see where our imaginations went with a new truc in our pantry. The results opened up a whole new world of flavour and broke down barriers. Chefs employed its sweet, umami ridden cloves as a new wave for garlic as an ingredient. Purees, flavored broth, and black garlic chips are just a few of the myriad of ways this ingredient has been utilized.
Black garlic is simply seasoned with a mix of sugar and salt and left to dehydrate in a controlled humidity environment for about 6 weeks. The length of time depends on the sugar content and time of year that the garlic is harvested, and of course personal taste. It slowly caramelizes in the one hundred and forty degree Fahrenheit dehydrator, with the slow roasting and fermenting process changing the chemical makeup of the garlic. When the garlic is in the oven, it develops melanoidin, which is responsible for the rich cocoa color.
The history of black garlic is a bit storied, with some accrediting the discovery to Korea or China. In Korea the garlic is used as an antioxidant in energy drinks and for the prevention of disease. American chefs are using the ingredient in unique fashion, not for its healthful benefits but for its unique flavor and aroma.
David Posey, Chef de Cuisine of the revered Blackbird in Chicago, has been buying the ingredient for several years and decided to try his hand at making it in house, describing it as a relatively easy process that produces unique results. If you can run a dehydrator, drying oven, or even a rice cooker for over a month, why not give it a try? Posey has used it in a variety of ways; from agaragar thickened puree, tapioca starch based puff, to flavor base, black garlic is a staple in the Michelin awarded chef’s pantry. On his winter menu Posey served Wood Grilled Sturgeon with roasted leeks, fingerling potato, oscetra caviar, pear, and ham hock broth. Citing the depth, umami, and cloyingly sweet characteristic of the garlic, it was a main flavor in his ham hock broth. Posey is even more excited for ransom season to arrive in a few months, as the springtime ramps can be treated in the same fashion to produce wonderful results as well.
The elongated drying and caramelizing process alleviates the harsh tones of fresh garlic and the pungent aroma of cooked garlic, leaving behind a mellow sweet product that can cross boundaries to the sweet kitchen. A black garlic and cocoa jus could be a wonderful sauce for a corn semi freddo with crystallized mint leaves. The line between the sweet, savory, and even bar kitchens has been blurred quite a bit in recent culinary scenes. A cocktail featuring black garlic muddled or pureed into a shrub with sugar cane would make for an excellent cuba libre with a touch of lime. A spicy margarita or even a bloody mary is crying out for black garlic.
Around Buffalo, chefs are appreciating the nuanced and gentle molasses flavor of the ingredient. Chef Lewandowski at Oliver’s highlights his steak and eggs dish with a black garlic emulsion. Chef Bruce Wiezala adds it to a smoked flat 12 oyster mushroom broth for an udon noodle soup, bringing out its rich umami flavor. Why not use it in your own home to make a Caesar style dressing over romaine that has been charred on the grill and hit with a fresh punch of lemon? Or use it to make a popular Spanish sauce to accentuate fish called romesco. The tomato, pepper, almond, and garlic puree sauce totally changes course with the addition of our featured ingredient.
Welcome black garlic into your home. Fold down the guest bed. Introduce it to your in laws. Whether you’ve just met or have been lifelong friends, he is sure to be at your dining table for years to come.