Garlic comes in several sizes and colors. “Elephant” garlic, actually a form of leek, has huge cloves in comparison to regular all-purpose garlic, but the taste is much less assertive; try it raw with dip. The regular garlic is best for cooking, and the pure white variety is easier to peel than the heads with a purplish tinge. But whatever you buy make sure the cloves are firm and throw them out when they soften.
If you cook with loads of garlic (as I do), peel a few heads at the beginning of each week and refrigerate the cloves in a screw-top jar. This is a real time saver. Remove any cloves that begin to “sprout” at the center and use them right away. If the sprout is light green, small and thin, it won’t interfere with flavor. But if the sprout is long and a darker shade of green, it tends to impart a bitter flavor; to remove it, cut the peeled clove in half lengthwise and pull the sprout down and out.
To crack and peel garlic: Pull the desired amount of cloves away from the head. Lay clove on one of its flat sides, and apply pressure to the clove with the widest section of a chef’s knife until you hear a “crack.” Lift blade and remove skin. If this doesn’t work the first time, try once more. If you plan to chop or mince the garlic, it doesn’t matter how hard you smash it, but if your recipe calls for a whole, slivered or bruised clove, or if you plan on refrigerating peeled cloves for future use, take care to press gently.
To bruise garlic: When you want a garlic flavor to penetrate a shallow layer of cooking oil when pan-frying, it’s necessary to bruise the whole clove so its robust flavor can be released. To do this, apply a bit more pressure on the flat side of the knife while cracking the clove. Remove skin and hopefully you will have cracked open a small slit in the clove without actually crushing it. A crushed clove is more likely to burn in the hot oil.
To flatten, chop or mince garlic: After peeling cloves, slice off the tough root ends. Press down on each clove with a chef’s knife, as you did before peeling and smash so it lies perfectly flat. Then use the sharp blade of the chef’s knife to go back and forth rhythmically over the garlic until it is chopped or minced to the desired consistency.