Not just a vampire killer
Can you tell me about preserving garlic in oil? Many recipes say you can use raw garlic in oil, either to infuse the flavour into the oil or use garlic, chillies etc to marinate feta in oil (for example, Digby Law's Chutney Cookbook).
But I have read on websites that mixing the two can be dangerous as the combination allows the growth of bacteria clostridium botulism unless the oil is frozen. I've seen websites that say not to add raw garlic when marinating feta Please could you tell me which is correct.
I have to say it is a tricky one. When I was doing my apprenticeship in Melbourne I discovered garlic for the first time in many ways. Growing up in Whanganui we would make a head of garlic last a year.
My step-mum Rose would rub a clove around the inside of the salad bowl before putting the salad in. We wouldn't actually eat it, rather use it to add aroma to salad. Occasionally we'd have buttery garlic bread, which I still always have when flying Air NZ - bless them for still serving it.
But cooking with it in any other way was unheard of, it was something Italian mamas and French folk wearing stripy tops riding bicycles ate.
In Melbourne I was a like a beast unleashed, when I found myself living near Lygon St (Italy's culinary cultural home) and eating as much garlic as I could. I was told I could leave some in a bottle of olive oil and use the flavoured oil to dress salads and the like.
That was all very well until it began bubbling. It wasn't just in summer when the temperature reached high 30's, it would also happen in winter, so I found myself storing the oil, with garlic, in a bottle in the fridge. This mostly worked, but occasionally it would also turn.
I never got to the bottom of it but assumed it was the garlic itself, not the temperature, causing it to ferment (if that's what was actually happening). That led me on to chopping the garlic and sizzling it in just enough oil to cover, then pouring into a jar to cool before topping with unheated oil and leaving it for a week on the kitchen bench.
Then I'd strain it, the chopped garlic would live in the freezer until needed for a stew or soup, and the oil would sit on the bench. The garlic flavour was still present, it had solved my dilemma, and so long as I ate it within a few months, it was delicious. I've also done this with chopped chillies - cooking definitely stops them fermenting.
I've been told that if you peel and halve the garlic, then boil for 6 minutes and pat dry with kitchen paper, it won't go off when immersed in oil but the flavour is less pronounced.
So you might wonder why bother at all, why not just use freshly chopped or grated garlic?
There is something a lovely about a virgin olive oil infused with the characteristic aroma of garlic, but without the sometimes bitter bite. It's handy to have to drizzle over grilled tuna or roast potatoes without having to peel and chop the stuff, and it's great on a thin crusted pizza you've scattered with rocket and shaved parmesan.
The infuriating thing is that I have friends in Spain and Turkey who leave their freshly harvested garlic marinating in jars of local olive oil out on the kitchen bench all the time and the stuff never bubbles. So maybe it's all to do with freshness of garlic - this year I'm hoping to grow my own and I'll hopefully be able to tell you next year!
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you’re stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.