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The easiest way to peel garlic cloves. February 24, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. If there’s one thing I’ve always hated, it’s peeling garlic cloves.

It’s easy to peel off the papery cover of the bulb itself, but once you get to the individual cloves, the agony begins. First, separate the cloves, no problem. Then, put a clove on your cutting board and cut off the tip and base. No problem.

Then, try to get the skin off the clove. Big problem: Those slivers of tough outer skin get under your fingernails, stab in, and hurt like hell: Suddenly you know what it must have been like to be at the mercy of a torturer working for the Spanish Inquisition. And even if you finally do manage to get them off, the slippery inner skin sticks to your fingers like white on rice. Even if you somehow manage to get the sticky garlic skin off your fingers, there’s still the lingering smell, not precisely the perfume you’d hoped to wear that night. (And just try getting that off. Yeah, yeah, stainless steel, lemon juice… Ha!)

I’ve read that the easy way to remove the skin from a garlic clove is to hold the blade of a knife over the clove and smack it with the flat of your hand. No thanks, I still have such vivid memories of my last trip to the emergency room that I’d rather not try out for another one. But you’re so sweet to suggest it.

Yes, I’ll go through the agonies of garlic-peeling to add garlic to dishes like pasta sauces, but have been in no hurry to add garlic to any dish that didn’t simply scream for its inclusion, and I don’t care how many health benefits were claimed on behalf of the “stinking rose.” Dammit, these are my fingers we’re talking about!

But you’ll be happy to know that I’ve finally learned a (literally) painless way to separate garlic cloves from their skins, thanks to my friend Huma. She had asked me during one of my visits to her house to please chop garlic and ginger for a dish she was making. Gritting my teeth and smiling sweetly, I took up a paring knife and was preparing to do battle with the first garlic clove when Huma looked around and screamed, “What are you doing?!” Seizing the pestle from a large olivewood mortar on her kitchen counter, she pounded the unfortunate garlic clove with a few good whacks. Before my disbelieving eyes, the skin split neatly off the clove, leaving the somewhat flattened flesh ready for the attentions of the paring knife.

Well. As it happens, Huma had been kind enough to bring me an olivewood mortar and pestle as a gift last time she returned from a trip to the Middle East. So the next time a recipe I was making called for garlic, I showed it no mercy: I put those cloves down on my cutting board and smashed the life out of them with the side of the wooden pestle. Three good whacks and the skin separated from the flesh and was ever-so-easy to remove and discard, with no pain to the cook, no lacerated flesh beneath the fingernails, no clinging bits of stinky garlic skin on the fingertips. Wow.

Should you not happen to have a sturdy mortar and pestle in your kitchen, and if you’re unwilling to stink up your venerable rolling pin with garlic, I have a suggestion for you: Put your garlic cloves in a Ziploc bag on your cutting board and smash them with a hammer. (Just make sure your fingers are out of the way!)

Let me close by making an argument for everyone who cooks getting a mortar and pestle: It’s a great low-tech way to pulverize herbs and spices. Huma uses hers to mash ginger and garlic for recipes instead of mincing them. You can also use one to crush seeds like sesame or mustard seeds, pulverize salt crystals, peppercorns, or clumps of sugar, or make a paste from a variety of herbs and spices to use as a rub, as a dressing, or in a dish.

And anyway, pounding things is so therapeutic.

        ‘Til next time,




1. Dr. Huma Ibrahim - February 24, 2010

Pounding things is certainly incredibly therapeutic!

Ha! So true!!!

2. Victoria - February 24, 2010

I know I need a mortar and pestle, but I like the plastic bag and hammer. I’ll give that a try next time. Sooooo hate the garlic bits under my nails.

Go for it, Victoria! Those wretched garlic-skin pieces really hurt! Meanwhile, check out your local thrift shops for a mortar and pestle. I’ve found some nice ones there!

3. Gail - February 24, 2010

I used to have a flexible plastic tube that you would put the garlic in and roll it back and forth with your palm…Presto chango…peeled garlic. I now just hit it with the side of a paring knife and it slides out of the skin. I don’t like the smell on my hands! So I rub them on a piece of stainless steel…don’t ask me how/why but it works. I am a therapist, not a chemist! gail

Ha, now you’re scaring me, Gail! I know they say that’s the way to do it, but I also know it would be my hand that I managed to hit with the knife, not the garlic!

4. Jen - February 25, 2010

Those big old meat tenderizer hammers work perfect for this!

Now what’s this about stainless steel removing the smell??!

Good point, Jen! They would be ideal! As for stainless steel, it’s supposed to be true—some sort of neutralizing chemical reaction. You can even find stainless gizmos expressly for the purpose, but if you have a stainless steel sink, just rub your hand on it next time you finish cutting garlic and see what you think!

5. Alan from Roberts Roost - February 25, 2010

We have found that Stainlezz removes ze smell of garlicz and ze blood, an ze other strong smelz. Garlic az an ingredient should be handled with the greatest care. No smashing or bashing. Gently remove ze skin an let the essence flow. Zat it ze best….

Mais oui, Alan! Nous l’essayerons votre technique, et esperons que les bons temps rouler!

6. joey - February 25, 2010

Here, here, Silence! I have a flexible tube also, Gail, but never remember to use it since I already have the side of my trusty knife/mortar/pestle handy! Yes … stainless DOES work to remove ze garlic smell (that I love).

Ha! I’ll try the side of the kitchen sink, Joey! Though I have to say, French kitchen soap seems to do a pretty decent job…

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8. Brandi - September 23, 2012

Wow! This is wonderful. Thank you!!

I totally agree, Brandi! This technique was such a revelation!

9. L????? - October 1, 2013

F-Fingers burning! Typing with one hand! Minced garlic with a knife! So much garlic, the pain, agony! It burns! I smell like garlic…

Yowie kazowie, how awful! I’ve had that happen when mincing hot peppers with bare hands, but not with garlic. I found that plunging my burning fingers into a bowl of milk stopped the pain (as long as I kept my hands in the milk). Something like Benadryl ointment might be a more practical solution, but of course at the time I didn’t even think of it. As for getting rid of the garlic smell, I usually don’t bother, since I actually like the smell, but they swear that running your fingers over stainless steel (like a stainless-steel sink or bowl) will do the trick. Good luck, and hoping you’re pain-free soon!!!

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