Recipes often scold home cooks over the very idea of browned garlic, which is a misinformed piece of advice. It’s true that if you throw a handful of chopped garlic into a pan of smoking oil it will likely char before you can bat an eyelid, and it on top of that it will taste bitter and like bad things.
There is, however, another way, and once you try it you’ll want to add it to everything you eat.
Gratiem jiaw is a must have condiment to brighten Thai noodle dishes and soups, especially khao tom (a salty soup made with leftover rice), and is little more than deep fried slivers of garlic.
There are a few things to keep in mine when preparing crispy fried garlic, and one is to remember the importance of a low and steady heat. The goal is to fry the garlic slowly, which will avoid burning and instead bring out a nutty garlicky flavour with a crispy texture.
Slice several cloves of peeled garlic as thinly and evenly as you can manage, or chop them into uniform pieces. The more garlic you use and the more uniform the size of each piece, the easier it is to avoid burning. Aim for at least half a cup.
Eye up how much garlic you’ve got cut and guestimate enough vegetable oil to cover the slices with space for them to swim a little – maybe 250-300 millilitres of oil (a cup to a cup and a half) for half a cup of cut garlic cloves. Heat the oil to medium low to medium. Drop a piece of garlic into the oil to test its readiness; the sliver will begin to bubble when the heat is appropriate.
Chuck all of the garlic into the oil and fry, stirring constantly, until its colour begins to resemble that of light straw and then a golden amber colour. Immediately tip the entire contents of the wok into a heat proof oven dish and leave to cool. The garlic will continue cooking for a short time in the still hot oil, so it’s imperative that you remove the pan from the heat at the right time.
It ought to take at least five minutes to fry the garlic, but if you can complete the task more slowly the result will be better.
Many instructions for making gratiam jiaw call to strain the garlic out of the oil, which is also an option. Use a fine mesh spoon to skim it off the surface of the oil or place or metal mesh colander over a heat proof bowl and pour the oil through to catch the garlic.
I prefer to leave the garlic in the oil to achieve a double whammy on on the flavour front. The oil carries the garlic aroma while the garlic itself imparts the sweet and nutty flavour that can take a dish from good to outstanding. Whatever you do, even if you decide to strain the garlic, don’t toss the oil! Cook with it to make all the things that come out of your kitchen into stuff of magic.