Over time, I figured it out by watching more experienced cooks. There are two proper ways to use garlic: pounding and blooming. Neither involves a press, which is little more than a torture device for a beloved ingredient, smushing it up into watery squiggles of inconsistent size that will never cook evenly or vanish into a vinaigrette. If you have one, throw it away!
Instead, pound raw garlic into a paste that can dissolve into food. Like an intoxicatingly perfumed woman who left a party before you arrived, it’ll leave behind only a faint rumor of its presence. Pound garlic for mayonnaise, vinaigrettes, marinades, kebabs and herb butter. For several cloves, use a mortar and pestle. For one or two, turn your knife on its side and squish the garlic with the blade. In either case, a preliminary rough chop and a generous pinch of salt will help expedite the process. Keep going until it’s as smooth as toothpaste.
Cover your perfect paste with a little olive oil to keep it from turning an unappealing greenish gray. Add it, without much delay, to a sauce or a dish while remembering two things: first, that you’re now adding salt along with the garlic, so hold back on salting your food until after you taste it with the garlic. And second, that the flavor of raw garlic grows more intense with the passage of time — your aioli will be more garlicky tomorrow. You can always add more, so add it gradually.
To cook with garlic, sizzle but don’t brown it before adding it to food — this is blooming, and it will tame garlic’s raw fire, leaving it fragrant and flavorful. To bloom, gently heat a tablespoon or two of butter or oil in a pan over low heat, then add minced or sliced garlic. Swirl and stir for a few minutes, or until the garlic is tender. Just as it starts to take on a golden hue and release a savory aroma, remove it from the heat, or add a little water, stock or chopped tomato to prevent browning. If your garlic does brown, throw it out and start over. Browned garlic is burned garlic, and its acrid flavor will seep throughout an otherwise perfect dish.
Bloom garlic for Alfredo, puttanesca or any pasta you can imagine. To add garlic into a pan of cooked greens or onions, clear away a little space in the center of the pan by…