About a month ago (at the start of December) Marx Foods ran a promotion where they’d offer esoteric food items to food bloggers willing to write up reviews. And, honestly, this was my first ever shot at free food just because I have this hobby, so I gleefully bopped on over and signed up.
And also for full disclosure, I found out about the company in the first place because my friend, Meghan, had been to their site and entered a photo contest that had scored her some vanilla beans, of which she spoke highly.
So of three choices, I asked to try the Black Garlic because earlier in the year there had been a wave of food bloggers trying out this ingredient, too, and it’s appeal seemed to come from its flavor as well as its novelty value.
And right away I had to change my shipping address and had to try out their customer service – and received prompt emails back from Justin Marx on a weekend. Wow! And he was very supportive of my little amateur blog and every welcoming even though many of the things he sells just seem way out of my league / price range. So I am very impressed by them.
But how impressive is the black garlic?
Scent – I had it shipped to my work address, and I could not resist opening the package and poking at it right away. At first it didn’t seem to have much scent, but then I left the office to do something, and I came back to realize that there was quite a strong, dark garlic scent all through my office. Oh, yeah. I am full of professionalism. Luckily, no one has to share the office with me. But it made me very hungry for the rest of the day.
It ended up arriving at a fairly busy time for me, and the first recipe I made from it was born of a need for simplicity. That Friday, was the Philadelphia Food Bloggers pot luck, and I’d been planning to make stuffed dates… and then just didn’t have any time to assemble them. So I went with an incredibly easy cream cheese dip instead.
Recipe 1 – flavored cream cheese with crackers
I made two side-by-side bowls of dip.
Garlic & Parsley Cream Cheese
Garlic (3 cloves minced black garlic in one, 5 cloves mashed roasted garlic in the other)
12 ounces neuchatel cheese
large bunch of flat leaf parsley, minced (the last from the summer garden)
2 Tablespoons finely minced purple onion
pinch of salt
So with exactly the same recipe, I set out to see what people thought the differences were.
First off – after a full day at work, the cream cheese with the black garlic needed to be mixed up with a fork again to be presentable because the brown color had seeped out into the surrounding cheese. (And with the leftovers, it continued to spread and blend into the cream cheese until there was an even mocha color – I might recommend making this 2-3 days ahead for maximum joy)
No one thought there was a licorice flavor to the black garlic spread. Descriptions tended more toward round and dark and complex, but no one could quite name the difference. That said, people loved them both equally, but separately. They were not interchangeable at all.
Recipe #2 – flavored butter
So since it melted to well into the cream cheese, I figured I’d try mixing it with butter, too.
Now, I’d already read Diane’s entry from White on Rice where she found that it didn’t infuse well into oil, but I figured it would not only be useful to confirm her results, but also be useful for extending the experiment – since I’d only acquired 2 heads of garlic.
And, no, the garlic didn’t melt into the butter at all. But it was still tasty spread on bread. My favorite experiment at this stage was making toast with the black garlic butter and a thin smear of thick, smooth Frontera salsa.
Texture: The reason so many descriptions of black garlic evoke licorice is that’s exactly what it looks like coming out of the papery husk. The paper skin is so thin, there’s not more than a single layer between you and the clove, but the clove has shrunk down to a thick black nub. It’s dry and squishy and a bit sticky/tacky as you but into it. Putting it in the freezer doesn’t change its texture much at all and doesn’t make it easier to slice. I ended up resenting the fine layer it would leave behind on my knife because I had so little to work with.
Experiment #3 – Black garlic in mushroom barley
I’d been trying to hold out against a Black Garlic Risotto recipe because that would be too ridiculously easy. How could black garlic not be tasty in that set up? But I caved because the taste matched exactly a Roman barley recipe, which I made for my last Roman cooking workshop (and, huh, never got around to writing up) and had promised myself I would revisit. So a cold night and much starch and there was a tasty, garlicy meal of joy. Guaranteed crowd pleaser. I’ll get my copy of Apicius and try to remember to make a separate entry for that one, but trust me – it’s a lot like risotto.
Taste: So it doesn’t taste quite like garlic, so what does it taste like? Well, darker and rounder and definitely umami… but that’s not helpful. The best description is that it tastes like garlic breath – everything around the flavor of garlic, without the obvious front taste. It’s dark and musky, but it’s all around the edges of flavor without confronting you directly.
Experiment #4 – Chocolate Truffles
Now I was a little dubious about this from the start, but the Marx Food people has promised this would be useful for savories or sweets. And they had even offered up a chocolate truffle recipe. Having read it, I’m kind of dubious about their preparation – which has a regular truffle center, rolled in minced black garlic. I think the garlic would end up too chewy and right there on your tongue.
So I set about to make the garlic part of the filling. I mixed together butter and garlic again, and I added as much chocolate as necessary to keep it from being overwhelmingly butter. I added enough sugar to make it feel like dessert, but I also added some salt and smoked paprika to bring out the smokier notes. I chilled this and dipped it in a pretty dark chocolate coating (a ratio of 2 squares unsweetened to 1 square semi-sweet Ghirardelli chocolate) and then garnished with a dusting a regular paprika.
And… it turned out bad. Not devastatingly bad, but not something I want to eat. Other people who tried it described it as a flavor explosion. But it wasn’t a pleasing one by my call, and I threw out the untried ones, instead of taking them home with me. (right, and I also need to write up the other, more sucessful, truffle recipes)
Experiment #5 – Black Garlic omelet
So I had just one clove left, and I decided to go with something I knew would be good. I sliced it very thinly, and I fried them crisp in a teaspoon and a half of bacon fat.
note: it was hard to track their cooking progress because they were already black. I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me before, but yeah worth pointing out.
And then I scrambled together an egg and almost an equal quantity of light cream. Poured in just enough to coat the pan, pulled the garlic slices back into the pan so they were evenly distributed, and rolled out a soft, luscious omelet of pure bliss!
Conclusion: This was a lot of fun to try, and I’d definitely use them again… but I’m not sure it’s something I’ll feel the need to seek out.