If you’re already acquainted with the magical alchemy of black garlic, feel free to skip to the end of this column now.
That’s where you’ll find the fine print on where to find the goods straight from the only black garlic maker in New Mexico, which just so happens to sell an array of locally made spices, salts and rubs most weeks at the Santa Fe Farmers Market.
Because if you know, you know.
And if you don’t know, like I didn’t know until a week or so ago, then allow me to introduce you to the soft, rich, addictively sweet depth of black garlic, in all the many forms it takes in the skilled hands of the folks at Avery’s Farm.
Black garlic is not, as I assumed, fermented. It’s simply the application of low heat over a long time, which results in a type of caramelization called the Maillard reaction (that thing that gives browned food its color and flavor, like bread, toasted marshmallows and seared steaks). So the deeply dark garlic cloves don’t carry the sharp tang of a fermented food or the garlicky bite of the raw version.
The flavor, more subtle and nuanced than raw garlic, is something akin to balsamic vinegar or tamarind — satisfyingly sweet, but with just a touch of tartness. The firmness of a raw clove gives way to a slightly tacky, gummy bear-like quality. It’s intriguing and description-defying in the way of all wonderful umami-bombs in this world.
But black garlic also apparently comes with many of the same health benefits of raw garlic, without that punishing bite. Originating in Asia, black garlic provides a boost of antioxidants, and can help regulate blood sugar levels and cholesterol.
Gloria Coequyt and her husband, Christopher Selser, didn’t start out with black garlic in mind when they moved to their 19th-century Jacona farm in 2014 in the Pojoaque Valley. Their minds were on sustainability and creating a green space that would be a welcome resting place for pollinators. They’ve grown fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, shallots, mushrooms, sky-high sunflowers and seven varieties of garlic.
“You think of apples, they’ve all got different qualities,” Coequyt said of the garlic. “Garlic is similar.”
But three or four years into the venture, she said, she tasted black garlic for the first time in a dish of mashed potatoes at a friend’s house and knew she wanted to learn more. She discovered the garlic’s history — slow-cooked in underground pots in Korea on south-facing hills — and its health properties. Avery’s Farm follows organic gardening principles, even fencing off the garlic to keep it safe from wild animals.
Avery’s Farm sells black garlic by the bulb, by the bottleful of peeled cloves and added to a variety of spices and salts (prices range from $10 to $15). It also sells rubs, which you mix with equal parts oil and water and apply to the protein of your choice. We tried the Camino Real Molé, which had a complex chocolate warmth that infused a pair of grilled-at-home chicken breasts. I also tasted the New Mexico Cowboy rub, a nuanced blend of garlic powders, juniper berries, coffee, cardamom and sea salt; and the Silk Road to New Mexico rub, a spicier blend that includes Velarde red chile, black garlic powder, juniper berries and other ingredients all layered neatly in its little glass jar (the star, I’d imagine, of any Avery’s or New Mexico-themed culinary gift set).
As for the garlic itself? We preferred cutting open the aged garlic bulbs and extracting the black cloves ourselves; they were softer and more spreadable than the ones in the jar, though they carried the same richness. We tried the whole bulbs, the jarred cloves, and a delightful mix of black garlic and Celtic sea salt.
And what, exactly, do you do with black garlic? Start, Coequyt said, by simply taking a bulb out and tasting it. You’ll be surprised at the creamy texture and rich but mild flavor.
Then try some in scrambled eggs or mash up a quick compound butter. Mix it into guacamole or with fresh salsa in the summer. Add it to an Eastern-inspired dish or a cheese plate, or put it on pizza. Infuse it in olive oil or as part of a vinaigrette. Sprinkle the black garlic powder on popcorn.
Try it in mashed potatoes or on roasted veggies or soups of all kinds.
“When people ask me how to use black garlic, it depends on the time of year,” Coequyt said. “What will people be cooking now?”
But if you’re anything like me, once you have black garlic in the house — in whatever form — you won’t be searching for ways to use it. The hard part will be deciding how not to use it.