Three Recipes: The Best Way to Roast Garlic
Roasted garlic is one of the simplest ways to make a dish you already know more interesting. There is something magical that happens when you roast garlic that concentrates garlic’s flavors while adding a slight bit of sweetness, and reducing raw garlic’s pungent bite.
It’s also incredibly simple to do and is a great thing to work into your cooking routine. In surfing around the Internet and through some of our favorite cookbooks we came across three basic ways to roast garlic that essentially boil down to en paper, open-faced, and all foiled up.
To see if one method was better than the others we grabbed three bulbs and a hot oven.
Ways to Roast
Let’s start with some basics that are the same across all three roasting methods. The first is when we’re talking about roasting garlic; we’re talking about roasting an entire bulb in an oven. The oven is usually set at 350 or 400°F degrees, with the garlic being roasted for 35 to 45 minutes. What’s different is how the garlic is prepared.
The first method, which we’re calling en paper because it sounds fancy, is when a whole bulb is roasted without taking the top off or adding any oil. For this method, all you do is throw a bulb of garlic in a baking dish, put everything in the oven, and let it roast away.
The other two methods start off the same, which is removing the top of the bulb with a sharp knife, so the cloves are exposed. All the recipes we read that have the top being removed call for the addition of a light drizzle of olive oil and are fairly split about whether or not there should be a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
The major difference is that in the open-faced version the bulb is placed naked in a baking dish and in the foiled version the bulb is wrapped up tight in a piece of aluminum foil before it’s placed in the oven.
To see if there was a noticeable difference between the three methods we roasted three bulbs of garlic together for a side-by-side comparison. What was interesting about the results is that there were some things we liked about each cooking method and reasons we could see for using each of them.
The whole roasted en paper method was the easiest, not that any of these take any real work, of the three it had the strongest nutty flavor to it. It also had some slightly burned notes and was the hardest to get the cloves out afterward, which was a surprise.
The bigger surprise was the amount of difference between the open-faced and foiled versions. The open-faced version had a nice brown color on top, with a soft, creamy texture underneath, and a noticeable nutty flavor – less than the en paper version, but a lot more than the foiled version.
The cloves wrapped in foil came out with a beautiful gold color; they also held their shape a lot better than in the other two methods. The flavor in this version was more muted than the other versions, but you could still tell it had been roasted.
It seems like the big difference between the different methods has to do with moisture retention. In the foil version the garlic steams as much as it roasts, retaining a lot of the garlic’s water, which helps keep its shape and why its flavor changed the least; where the open-faced version losses a lot of its moisture, which allows the end of the cloves to brown, which concentrates and changes its flavors.
We also wanted to test time and temperature, so we roasted another bulb at 350°F for a little under 40 minutes. What we found is that in comparison there was very little roasted flavor in the garlic at the lower temperature. There was so little change in taste from this test that if our oven only went to 350°F, we wouldn’t even bother.
We also tried a version with a sprinkle of salt and pepper on top, which makes sense if you’re using the garlic as a spread, but not if you’re using it as an ingredient. The reason for this is because the seasoning ends up on such a small part of the garlic that when you’re using it as an ingredient, it’s easier to add the salt and pepper to the dish.
Since we primarily use roasted garlic as an ingredient in dishes, rather than as a spread, the method we’ll use the most going forward is the foil method. Having the garlic maintain it’s shape and texture will make it easier to work with when it’s being added to a dish.
That being said if we’re roasting garlic to use as a spread, we’re going to use the wide-open method to get a nuttier flavor, with the softer texture, which will also make it easier to spread.
In Three Recipes we explore the different ways to make different dishes to try and figure out what works and why. Read more Three Recipe Stories.
Mark is Umami's publisher