My family, particularly my father and uncle, is a bunch of garlic heads. No matter what we make, there is never enough garlic. Growing up in Phoenix, my Chicago-raised Polish father was never happy with the quality of polish sausage we could find so we started making our own. Every Easter, he’d lug out the heavy hand grinder, cranking away as I would add head upon head of garlic cloves, a shocking amount really. He’d pan fry up a little taste and declare “No, not enough. More garlic!” The rest of us would groan but we kept cranking. At some point, as the garlic-to-pork ratio increased, I think it ceased being Polish sausage and became something else entirely. Whatever it was, it was certainly delicious. And pungent.
I often think of those sausage making bouts when I’m in Asian markets and see large bags of pre-peeled garlic that would have made my life so much easier back in the day. I’m always amazed at the casual manner the Asian shoppers fling enormous 5 pound bags of peeled garlic into their carts. I’ve yet to figure out what they possibly cook that uses that much garlic. Then I pause for a moment …. I bet my Dad could go through that bag in no time. He’d fit in with this crowd perfectly.
Last Christmas, I had a special gift in mind and thought about those bags of peeled garlic. I’d recently come across a pickle recipe and thought if I made it spicy I’d hit on my Dad’s personal trifecta: garlic, spicy, pickled. A perfect gift. So the night before my flight left for Phoenix, I whipped up a few jars in a hurried frenzy. With the pre-peeled garlic and some pantry ingredients, it came together rather quickly.
We opened one jar for Christmas dinner and those tender cloves were pretty delicious – the pickling had mellowed the inherent sharpness of the garlic, the chile flakes gave it a little kick and the brine had a nice sweet counterpoint. It was a lovely addition to the traditional relish tray.
I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit since then and have landed on a balance I particularly like. I’ve scaled down the batch size to make only 1 pint so it’s a quick and easy one that won’t overwhelm with endless jars. But if you want to crank out several jars, by all means, increase away. I highly recommend scouting out your local Asain market for a big bag or even just a small container of the peeled garlic. I purchased enough for this recipe for the low low price of $1.82. I generally don’t go for the pre-peeled stuff in grocery stores but in Asian markets, there’s so much turnover the inventory is always very fresh and let’s face it, peeling a ½ pound or more of garlic is a pain in the butt. Plus it’s pretty cheap so it’s a shortcut I don’t mind taking. But if you want to peel all that garlic yourself, try this method. I swear it works.
Below I give directions for water processing so the jar is shelf stable until opened but you can skip that part if you store in the fridge. Still boil the jar for 10 minutes to make sure it’s throughly clean or use one hot right from the dishwasher, pour the brine over the garlic, top with the lid and let cool down a bit then store in the fridge for up to 2 months.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SPICY PICKLED GOODNESS. I have no proof for this but I swear this stuff is good for you in some way. I like to think it lowers my cholesterol. Garlic, spicy, pickled? Has to be healthy-ish in some way right? But let me tell you where it really shines … Bloody Mary’s. Oh yes, add it to that delicious skewer of tasty bits you know you love. In fact, at this very moment, I’m on my way to a Wisconsin cabin where many many Bloody Mary sessions will ensue. You can bet I’m bringing along a big jar. A really big jar.
SPICY PICKLED GARLIC – recipe adapted from one in “Canning for a New Generation” by Lianna Krissoff
Makes 1 pint
9 ounces whole peeled garlic
1 ¼ cups white vinegar
1 ½ Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
for the spice mix:
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- Place the jar in a pot with water to cover by at least 1” to cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes then turn off the heat and let sit until needed. Place the jar lid and ring in a heatproof bowl and set aside.
- Bring another, smaller pot of water to a boil and blanch the garlic for 1 minute. Drain and let cool.
- In a nonreactive pot, combine the vinegar, sugar and salt and bring to a boil, stirring until dissolved.
- With tongs, remove the jar from the large pot and pour the hot water from the jar on top of the lid and ring (the hot water will soften the lid seal.)
- Place the hot empty jar on a towel to catch any drips.
- Place the spice mix – crushed red pepper flakes, coriander, cumin seeds, peppercorns – in the jar and pack tightly with the blanched garlic, leaving 1” at the top.
- Pour the hot vinegar over the garlic, leaving ½” space at the top.
- Use a chopstick or the non-pointy side of a skewer to remove any air bubbles then wipe the rim clean with a slightly damp paper towel.
- Top with the jar lid and ring, screwing “finger tight” (What does this mean, you ask? Screw the ring on but don’t crank it. You don’t want to look for the pliers when it comes time to open the jar.)
- Return the filled jar to the pot, making sure there’s at least 1” of hot water to cover, bring to a boil and set the timer for 15 minutes.
- Remove the jar to a wire rack to cool completely for several hours or overnight.
- After an hour of cooling, check the seal by pressing down on the center of the lid. If it pushes down, the jar isn’t sealed and must be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within two months. If it’s sealed, it can be stored, room temperature, for up to 1 year. Once opened, store in the fridge.