Fresh Garlic, and What To Do With It

Unless you are one of those blessed people with an outdoor space and a vegetable garden and the opportunity to grow your own sprightly things, chances are you only ever see heads of garlic in dried form, their ivory cloves enclosed in a papery husk.

But I’m here to tell you that, as dried things usually go, those heads of garlic were once full of life and moisture, only freshly dug out from the ground in which they sprouted and grew.

In France, where we have a knack for naming things in a clever way, we call this ail frais (fresh garlic) or ail nouveau (new garlic), and it is a prized feature of springtime stalls, going for around 2€ a head (a little more if organic) in my neighborhood*.

Fresh garlic

This is not a particularly cheap price to pay for a single head of garlic (dried and therefore shelf-stable garlic is less costly for distributors to handle) but the flavor of fresh garlic cloves is subtle and vibrant, and a perfect match to the new crop of vegetables that typify the season — think asparagus, green peas, and thumb-sized potatoes.

Although the girth of these fresh heads of garlic is comparable to that of dried, they are in fact immature — if left to dry, they would shrink to a much smaller size — and the cloves themselves are pretty small, so the trick to getting your garlic money’s worth is to use the whole thing, à la nose-to-tail.

Here’s what I do.

Fresh garlic

The stalk part at the top I slice off, and use as I would a section of leek, sautéed with other vegetables, or in a soup or broth. I then break open the thick ribbed skin that encloses the cloves (see photo at top), and that part I slice thinly and use as I would an onion. Those two parts can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days before using, or minced and frozen.

Next, it is time to separate the cloves from one another: they are sheathed in a fleshy, waxy membrane, which I tear open to free the actual cloves, smooth-skinned and satiny, the tiniest ones no bigger than my smallest fingernails.

I keep the cloves (at left, below) in a small ramekin in the fridge door, ready to be used over the next few days. I usually cut them into translucent slices with a knife or mandoline — I would not feel it appropriate to subject them to the garlic press treatment — and either fry them until golden in a little oil, to be set aside and added back into the finished dish, or use them raw in salads.

Fresh garlic

As for the membranes (at right, above), I turn them into a rather delicious cream of garlic.

To do this, I bring water to a simmer in a small pan, throw in the membranes, and drain them as soon as the water comes back to a simmer. I let the membranes cool and drain for an hour or so, then process them with half their weight in good olive oil (i.e. I weigh the amount of drained garlic membranes, divide that weight by two, and measure that weight in olive oil), and salt to taste.

Fresh garlic

This produces a surprisingly butter-colored, mayonnaise-like spread that is quite handy to keep in the door of the fridge: you can add it to vinaigrettes and other salad dressings, blend it into a stir-fry of vegetables as a finishing touch, or dollop it onto a piece of fish or meat. It also works splendidly on canapés and other crostini, on its own or to support other ingredients.

Have you cooked with fresh garlic before? What did you do with it?

* Like in all cities, food prices can vary significantly from one quartier to the next, depending on the average income of its inhabitants. The area around rue des Abbesses and rue des Martyrs is not the most expensive, but not the cheapest one either.

Fresh garlic

  • I did get some fresh garlic in Gérardmer last June, but didn’t really know what to do with it. Not sure if it’s available here – possibly in our farmers’ market.

    What I am always on the lookout for, though, is ramsons, or wild garlic, which makes a wonderful soup (bärlauchsuppe in German). Can you get that in Paris?

    • Annabel, you can get bärlauch seeds from European seed companies and try growing your own. I brought some back from Germany and they’re doing well here in Washington state, USA. My friend and I harvest bärlauch on hikes in Bavaria every spring but I wanted to have some of my own! I make bärlauch pesto so I have it to use year-round.

      • Thanks so much for the tip, Gayle! I always thought bärlauch (ail des ours in French) was only found in the wild. I’ll try to plant my own!

  • @ Annabel – I had some ail des ours (bear garlic) on a dish at Au Passage in the 11th last week, so it must be available somewhere. Delicious stuff!

  • I would love to try the cream of garlic but alas I think I have missed the boat on growing my own this year and am yet to find any for sale.

  • Christie

    Your cookbook! I Am so excited! I also love green garlic.

  • lynh

    i really like this cream of garlic as a condiment idea! it seems like a great way to liven up something, as well as not overwhelm the taste buds with garlic, which I am apt to do. It seems like a good way to practice restraint and yet spicen things up. Thanks for the idea Clotilde!

  • I just bought two heads of fresh garlic. And I had no idea what to do with them. I’m totally making that garlic spread. Sounds SO good… slathered on anything!

  • OOOH great there is loads of this stuff around at the moment I will try what you said! When I grew my own I just used it as “normal” garlic but I used a little extra because it was so mild

  • I love young garlic (and agree, young garlic + asparagus is a match made in heaven) but had no idea you could use the membranes as well – thanks!

  • My chinese grocer in Maisons Alfort carries fresh garlic for around 50 cents ahead (yes, rent prices aren’t the only reason to live in the suburbs). I’ve been using it in literally everything that goes into my frying pan for the last couple of weeks…

  • Cynthia Dare

    Clotilde we grow a garden but my husband neglected to plant garlic this year! Now I will go to a neighbor and beg some of his to be able to try your suggestions. Thanks for this! I am excited about your new cookbook.

  • Pippa

    We are on the same wavelength! I was lucky enough to spend a week in St Remy de Provence last May and we lived off griddled green asparagus spears served with a mayonnaise flavored with fresh garlic, sweet smoked paprika and a few other herbs and spices we had to hand. It was one of the best weeks of my life…

  • Asli

    I like to slice open the whole bulb horizontally and add to braises. Sine the fresh garlic is subtle it does not overpower the braise and can be eaten whole.

    • That sounds lovely, Asli. What kind of braises, for example ?

  • roberta

    the stalk is great in an omelette (or better, a frittata) with parmesan. I use to do the garlic spread putting the whole bulb in the oven wrapped in tin foil and then process it with olive oil, but your solution is great!

  • I am ao greatful to see this post. I had no idea what to do with it when I bought some from the market last year!! Hopefully I will see some more this year and I’ll be ready to pounce.

    • Do report back when you try this!

  • I’m a garlic lover and this is a new idea for me in how to use fresh garlic in my kitchen. Thanks for this post. XOXO

  • Wow, they sell this at my local veg shop occasionally, but I’ve always been a bit wary. I’ve bookmarked this article and next time I see it, I’m giving your suggestions a go!! :)

  • This is the time of year our neighbor gives us a bunch of fresh garlic. We have always hung it up and let it dried. We will no longer do this, thank you for the refreshing ideas.

  • Love the cream of garlic idea. I will have to try this. We use a lot of garlic and this gives yet another way to use it. Thanks for the tip!

  • What timing. We arrived here in Saignon, near Apt, for our tenth visit in 11years. Once here we always look at your blog and there is the fresh garlic post just as we go off to the market in Coustellet. Voila, fresh garlic. I will try to use all of the four heads we got for 2€!

    We used your blog to find Chez Gianni in Sivergues years ago and have never forgotten that day, where we ate our fill and then the main course arrived! Yikes, what a day.

    Best, Jim Weekes

    • Wonderful to hear, James! Chez Gianni’s such a special place. And I hope you enjoy your .50€ heads of fresh garlic. :)

  • Elizabeth Wormer-Pando

    Read this month’s Chocolate and Zucchini newsletter before researching how to utilize most of the fresh garlic my partner brought home yesterday (it is widely available here in Hungary, and not expensive at all- 3.50 euros a kilo), what a nice surprise! Needless to say a jar of garlic cream will be gracing our fridge shelves as per this afternoon. To your readers bemoaning the fact of being late in planting their garlic plants this year: soak gently separated cloves of garlic in a mild solution of bicarb of soda and water (for about 1 hour), to prevent it from developing mildew once planted. Then plant pointy side up in an ample plant pot (5 cm deep and about 10 cm apart), and cover with a nice layer of straw and water well. Keep it in the balcony or another sunny spot and watch the plants develop and mature in the coming months. They’ll be ready to harvest by the end of August (when their long leaves start going yellow). Bear onions, or medve fokhagyma, as they are called here are usually foraged at the beginning of Spring for their cleansing properties, and processed into stews, bread, or dried with salt to use as a table condiment the whole year round. Finally, Clotilde, receiving your newsletter each month is such a highlight of our culinary little world, thank you!

    • Thank you for the gardening tips and kind words, Elizabeth, they mean a lot!

  • Wow! Love it! I’m crazy about garlic but I never thought of making a garlic cream. Can’t wait to try it :D

  • Kathy D.

    Hi Clotilde….I tried the cream of garlic, but even with further cooking the inside covering of the cloves remained fibrous. I wonder if anyone else had this problem. I used the immersion blender, and I’ll try the traditional blender, but my quantity is small….so I’m not sure. I really wanted to make it. I did however, put the cloves in a jar, covered in olive oil, in the fridge. That way I will use the cloves and have some garlic-infused oil.

    • I wonder if you’ve peeled the cloves “deeply” enough? The layer that I use for the cream is the very last one before reaching the actual clove. It is waxy, with no visible lines (contrary to the previous layers), and I’ve never found it to remain fibrous after cooking. In any case, you can certainly try the traditional blender to get rid of the last fibers. Will you let me know?

  • This is awesome Clotilde!

    I can’t wait to try out the Cream of Garlic! However, does this work with dried garlic too?

    • I’ve never tried it with dried garlic, so I’m not sure. I worry that it wouldn’t process as smoothly as with fresh cloves. With dried garlic, it may be best to roaste the entire heads and then make cream of roasted garlic…

  • christophe

    mm.. seems interesting. I’ve got it in my head the cream of garlic is like a light aioli and a bit more olive oily. Seems like a handy constituent ingredient though..

  • I have had this post pinned now for a while but I’ve just dug up my first almost ready to pick garlic (another month maybe) and I intend to try everything here. My husband is a huge garlic fan so I’m sure the garlic buttery dip will be his personal baby to scoff down. :)

    • Wonderful, do report back when you try it!

  • steve shiflett

    Forgive me, for I have sinned! I bought 4 bunches of fresh garlic and tossed all but the garlic after it was peeled. I made some pickled garlic from the fruit – rice wine vinegar, pepper corns, bay leaves and sugar. I have no idea how it will turn out. (The recipe in “Salt sugar smoke” by Diana Henry.)

    Now, this morning I’m looking to make something nice for Sofie’s breakfast and thought to use the last bunch of fresh garlic. Garlic pancakes?

    FYI, my garlic was $3 a bunch – which was a little less than $3/pound. Santa Rosa, California. They also make a good air freshener! Having that garlic in the car on a warm day made the inside of the car smell like a fine restaurant.

    • Thanks so much for reporting back, Steve! Would you detail your pickling process for us if you have a moment?

      • steve shiflett

        1 lb garlic
        1 cup white wine vinegar
        1/4 cup granulated sugar
        6 white pepper corns
        6 black pepper corns
        6 bay leaves
        Bring above to a boil for about 2 minutes and pour over the garlic… which has been placed in the canning jar. Liquid should cover the garlic.

        I have not tasted it yet, but did some pickled mushrooms that are very good… similar ingredients for the mushrooms only add some slices of garlic. Sofie and I put them with pickled herring on bread… with cold vodka – a lovely lunch.

        • Thank you Steve, it looks very doable, and sounds like a great way to have good garlic on hand year-round. I am increasingly discontent with the shriveled cloves you find come late winter, and can’t bring myself to buy the fresher stuff flown in from Argentina. o_O

          • steve shiflett

            Okay, I’ve tried my pickled garlic. It is decadent! My lunch of blue cheese, rye and 4 of those pickled garlic’s with a beer… what will Sofie say when she comes home tonight and smells my breath?! If you enjoy garlic, you will likely enjoy the recipe above. Mind you, I tasted no pepper or bay leaves… but a little vinegar and wonderfully strong garlic. Maybe it’s all an excuse to eat raw garlic… I do not know, but I LOVE it!!!

            The worst garlic is from China. I picked some up in San Francisco in Chinatown because it was cheap… but it tasted “funny” – i.e. weak and “peculiar”. I read where it was from and tossed it. Now I read where the garlic is grown before buying it. In California, the best garlic is from the “farmers market” – or the major grower is The Christopher Ranch ( I do not know if they export to Europe – but let me know when you need garlic and I’ll send you a sample of what The Christopher Ranch has to offer. (I am sure California garlic is much better than Argentinean garlic!! …but maybe you can tell me since I have not eaten Argentinean garlic.)

            The book Omnivore’s Dilemma has a dim view of buying food outside of your area because of the waste of energy required to get it from “Point A” to “Point B”. There are other pragmatic reasons – but I can’t imagine buying garlic from Argentina anymore than you could imagine buying “sparkling wine” from California instead of champagne from France. :-) (That said, Sofie is buys blueberries from Chile for her pancakes when the local price gets too high… and I dare not mention my theories on energy to her!)

          • Thanks so much for reporting back, Steve, and I see we share the same viewpoints on produce and its origins.

            Re: berries, I’ve read that it’s preferable to go for “locally frozen” than “fresh but flown in” if one cannot live without them.

    • Masboyzz Boyzz
  • mere

    I never knew what to do with fresh garlic. I sauteed the stems with zucchini and made the garlic cream after storing away the cloves…I am going to love that garlic cream!

  • Masboyzz Boyzz
  • Masboyzz Boyzz
  • Haniya Ahmad

    Wonderful, do report back when you try it! anonymous
    quotes about life

  • Anita Orsino

    I just received fresh garlic in my CSA share box this week. I would like to make the cream of garlic . About how many bunches or cloves do you need to make a jar as shown? Is the picture representative? And how long will it keep in the refrigerator? Thank you for providing something new for me to do with a favorite seasoning.

    • The jar was made with a single head!

      • Anita Orsino

        Thank you Clotilde. I’m afraid my garlic wasn’t as fresh as it needed to be to make the lovely cream of garlic. The stalk was not green and the membrane was not very waxy. Next year I will participate in the pulling and insure that I have very fresh garlic. I shared your blog with a friend who speaks French and has visited relatives in France. She and I are enjoying it.

        • Thank you for reporting back, Anita! Very pleased to have you both on board. :)

Get the newsletter

Receive FREE email updates with all the latest recipes, plus exclusive inspiration and Paris tips. You can also choose to be notified when a new post is published.

View the latest edition of the newsletter.