Eater contributor Catherine De Orio is a blogger, writer, entrepreneur, Check, Please! host, and TV and radio personality. In her weekly Tasting Trends piece, she scours the city for what's trending on the dining scene and where you can taste the trend. Follow her culinary adventures on Twitter @CatCalls. This week's trend: Black garlic.
Garlic with a dry, withered husk; inky, black cloves and squishy to the touch might cause many to wrinkle their noses and turn away. But that would be a mistake. Aptly named black garlic is a flavorful ingredient gaining popularity on menus around town. Joseph Rose, executive chef at Lockwood Restaurant & Bar chats about the black sheep of the allium family.
Black garlic is white garlic that has been aged and fermented through a highly regulated month-long process of exposing it to varying levels of heat and humidity. During this process the flavor mellows, converting the slap-in-your-face astringency of white garlic into a complex sweet-savory flavor that would be classified as umami. "Raw garlic has a fiery bite, but with black garlic it has a sweet balsamic vinegar flavor with just a hint of garlic," says Rose.
The distinctive black color of the cloves is produced though a natural process during which the sugars and amino acids present in white garlic produce melanoidin as it is aged, lending it its signature color. It is not a substitute for regular garlic—they each have their place in the kitchen. White garlic is a workhorse while black garlic is used sparingly to add depth and complexity to a dish.
The color and flavor are not the only differences. Texturally it is gummy, almost jelly-like. "It's so sticky it's hard to peel and the paper sticks to it," Rose laments, "But once you get to it, it's worth it."
He describes the consistency as "a bit firmer than room temperature butter." It is spreadable like roasted garlic, although Rose says it works best as a component of a spread and not just on its own. He says it is great as a puree that can be used in multiple applications or cut into smaller pieces and added to an entrée or salad.
"It should be cut up," he says, "a big bite is not going to taste great."
Rose notes that although it is originally an Asian ingredient, it pairs well with strawberries, octopus and Spanish-Mediterranean flavors. In the past, Rose has even incorporated it into a scallop with sweet potato puree dish. His one caveat when using it in dishes with lighter ingredients is that one needs to be careful as it can overpower them.
On his summer menu (starting in late June) Rose finds the balance of a light but rich dish in his take on a caprese salad made with burrata, baby greens and dressed in a smoked tomato-black garlic vinaigrette. And to satisfy the adventurous palate, he's exploring different dishes using strawberries with black garlic in a salad or dessert as the "tangy garlic complements the sweet strawberries."
So if you want to take your garlic black, you can taste the trend here:
Lockwood Restaurant & Bar | Palmer House Hilton | 17 East Monroe Street | 312.917.3404
In a popular appetizer option with a Spanish flair, chef Rose pairs grilled octopus with black garlic puree (white wine, shallots, chicken stock and squid ink to help retain its distinctive color), cucumber gelee, Spanish chorizo, micro arugula and smoked paprika oil.
Takito Kitchen | 2013 West Division Street | 773.687.9620
Chef/partner David Dworshak's Susuki bass ceviche adds black garlic to a mix of spiced carrots, cilantro and lime. He notes that the black garlic "brings a complexity to the dish by adding a combination of sweet, tart and savory flavors as well as a mellow approachable garlic flavor."
Quince at the Homestead | 1625 Hinman Avenue, Evanston | 847.570.8400
Executive chef Andy Motto pairs a savory black garlic and squid ink cake with spring halibut and a seasonal medley of asparagus, fava beans and fiddlehead ferns at this charming Evanston restaurant.
Howells & Hood | 435 North Michigan Avenue | 312.262.5310
Cedar Springs lamb meatballs, smoked tomato vindaloo sauce, black garlic and house-made meyer lemon ricotta are combined, baked and served with a toasted baguette. The black garlic lends richness to the dish while balancing the spice and acidity level of the sauce.
Baume & Brix | 351 West Hubbard Street | 312.321.0351
The River North restaurant offers a lunch option of crispy pork belly cubes accompanied with egg salad, vanilla croutons, mizuna, black garlic puree and vinaigrette that is teeming with flavor.
RPM Italian | 52 West Illinois Street | 312.222.1888
Chef Doug Psaltis braises scungilli with black garlic, clam juice and butter and then uses the braising liquid as the sauce for the pasta. He accents the dish with preserved lemon and fresh parsley to give the umami rich dish a bit of brightness.
Kabocha | 952 West Lake Street | 312.666.6214
Helmed by executive chef Shin Thompson, this new Japanese Brasserie in the West Loop consistently turns out creative and flavorful dishes like the kombu cured lamb loin with black garlic lamb sausage, parsnips four-ways and a cherry jus.
Catherine De Orio dishes on all things cuisine, cocktail and cosmopolitan for editorial and broadcast outlets locally and nationally. You can follow her on Twitter @CatCalls