Being a known alliophile, I often receive garlic-related gifts—from aprons, linens, dishes and jewelry to unusual garlic tools. Many of these gizmos look a bit like implements of torture, designed to crush, smash, mash, screw and press. Some work great, while others seem frivolous because a plain old kitchen knife does the job just as well. With some gadgets, it is worth the extra money spent on top brands and models, while others work the same regardless of price. Here are some of my observations from years of experimenting with an array of garlic-specific kitchen tools.
Benefits of a Garlic Peeler
I have received two different types of tools called, inventively, GARLIC PEELERS ($4 to $7). One is a pliable plastic tube that resembles an empty cannoli shell. You place a clove or two of garlic inside the tube, press down on the peeler with the heel of your hand and roll back and forth, thus loosening the skin from the garlic clove. This technique peels the garlic, but the papery skin gets stuck inside the tube and has to be rinsed out.
The other rather dangerous-looking peeler is made from hard plastic and looks like a hand-held cherry pitter with a claw and a basket. You place the garlic clove in the basket and squeeze the handles so that the open claw presses down and forces the clove through the closed claw, which more or less skins it. The first peeler is easier to use and does a better job, and it also doesn’t cut into the cloves as the latter does. Personally, I find that a firm whack with the flat side of a chef’s knife is the best way to loosen the skin from a clove of garlic, and I don’t have to wash anything.
Benefits of a Garlic Press
I grew up in a house without garlic, let alone a GARLIC PRESS. My favorite book when I was a kid was Suzuki Beane by Sandra Scoppettone (Doubleday, 1961). Suzuki is a kid from a beatnik family who runs away from home and takes the garlic press with her. This totally fascinated me—why a child running away from home would choose to take a garlic press with her. I wasn’t sure what a garlic press was, but I knew it must have been pretty important.
Now, I realize that the garlic press is just as important to me as it was to Suzuki. Granted, one can live without a garlic press, but why would you? Pressing garlic yields the strongest garlic flavor possible because the press so thoroughly crushes the bulb that it breaks down the herb’s structure, thereby releasing the sulfur compounds all at once. And, happily, the tools are convenient, inexpensive and getting better all the time.
For the past 20 years or so I have had, and recommended, the Susi made by Zyliss in Switzerland, which is a sturdy, virtually indestructible tool. It has the little swivel plate that fits down into the circular chamber, where the garlic clove is placed and pressed through a series of small holes. The swiveling plate ensures a better fit, more even pressure and better contact than a stationary pressure plate. It does a wonderful job of crushing a clove of garlic.
The earlier and less expensive aluminum models with stationary plates aren’t as efficient or easy to use, let alone clean. Pretty much the only way to clean one is to stick your finger down in there and scrape out the little bits. It is a job that my children despise, and they always leave the garlic press in the sink. If left in the sink overnight (especially if it is in immersed in water), the aluminum starts to corrode and gets little white raised growths on it. This is not good for the press or humans. The supposed advantage of aluminum is that it is more lightweight, but I’m underwhelmed.
Some garlic presses are sold with a little plastic, so-called garlic cleaner, with little prongs to insert in the holes to remove the garlic residue. Others have a handle that swings around 360 degrees with the plastic prongs on the outer backside of the press. I find that neither of these work that well; they push the garlic residue out of the holes, but you still have to use your fingers to get it clean. But some people love these models—my niece, Sara, swears by her self-cleaning garlic press.
Best Garlic Tools: Peeler or Press?
In the past few years, since garlic has been touted as a miracle health food, a number of kitchen tool manufacturers have come out with garlic presses, ranging in price from $8 to $35. Some are quite handsome tools, but the bottom line is that they all basically work the same. I am glad to see the aluminum being replaced by stainless steel for health reasons.
Choose a press according to your individual needs and taste. When my daughter, Lucie, went away to college this year, I was secretly delighted that she put a garlic press on her list of necessities (like mother, like daughter). We found five garlic presses to choose from. We both have small hands so we eliminated the presses with huge bulky black handles and the clunky self-cleaning model. A fairly recent model has a removable plate for easy cleaning, but the display model was missing that part, which didn’t bode well. It was sort of a toss-up between the other brands; we decided on a Kitchen Aid, since we own other products made by this company, but mostly because we had a choice of colored handles, and it came with a garlic cleaner and little brush to stick down inside and clean it.
For the last two years, I have fancied the highest-priced garlic press, the Rosle, and had it on my Christmas wish list. This last year, I must have been good, because I finally got one. It is a handsome, well-made, heavy-duty tool. One can easily and successfully press a clove of garlic without peeling it. However, because I lose so much of the garlic along with the skin this way, I always peel my garlic cloves before pressing.
Now that I have become accustomed to the Rosle, I am spoiled. Since it is heavy, the leverage action is smoother and grasping is easier. The entire press swings open so that the plate with the little holes is totally accessible for cleaning on both sides (you still have to use your fingers). If you are a cook who uses a garlic press often, it would be a worthwhile investment—and will probably last a lifetime. But you do not have to have the top of the line; any garlic press that has heavy-duty handles and a swiveling crusher plate will do the job just fine. Designer colors are an added bonus for the color-conscious cook.
Some chefs dismiss the garlic press, but I use mine often. I press garlic into soups, stews, beans, sauces, marinades, salsas, stir-fries, mashed potatoes—wherever I want the strongest garlic flavor—most especially when I am making garlic bread. I totally relate to Suzuki Beane—when I run away from home or go on vacation, I take my garlic press with me.