Black garlic is having its moment. A staple of Korean cooking, “black” garlic is simply garlic that has been heavily, heavily caramelized, whole in the head, until the individual cloves turn black and take on a very soft, almost jam-like consistency. And the flavor? It’s about as unrelated to raw garlic as you can imagine, the sharp, almost spiciness of raw garlic transformed into a mellow, molasses-like richness, with complex flavors of not just garlic, but also Worcestershire and licorice, accompanied by a very slight, very pleasant funk that gives black garlic a full, round flavor that’s really, really hard to describe.
Professional black garlic manufacturers have complex production methods, designed to ferment garlic at 140 degrees for periods of up to 2-3 weeks. The time-consuming complexity of the process is reflected in the price, too, with some online retailers charging upwards of $35 per pound for the stuff.
The good news is, if you have a rice cooker (and good ventilation…more on this later), it’s easy to start experimenting with black garlic at home. As it happens, your home rice cooker’s “Keep Warm” setting creates ideal conditions for making your own black garlic, in just over a week. Make a big batch, and use black garlic anyplace you would use traditional roasted garlic: in salad dressings, mixed with mayonnaise as a sandwich spread, in deviled eggs, in a pan sauce for steak, or simply smeared like butter on a warm loaf of crusty bread.
First, find a suitable place to leave your rice cooker plugged in and powered on for a week or more. The selection of venue is important, because the smells generated during the fermentation process are…intense, to say the least. The strong smell of garlic will permeate any room, ebbing and flowing every 2-3 days, and will linger for a long, long time. We’re fortunate to have an attached barn at our house with power outlets, but we are very, very grateful to have a black garlic preparation site that’s not part of our general living space. If you’re in an apartment or smaller house, consider placing your cooker near a window. Or two. And be prepared for questions from the neighbors. Oh, and for any rice you ever cook again to taste vaguely like garlic.
With your rice cooker set to “Keep Warm” (NOT a cook setting!), add 5-6 whole bulbs of garlic, in a single layer on the bottom of the cooker. Seal it up, and start waiting. On the third day, you should begin opening the rice cooker daily to allow excess moisture to escape, and move the garlic around with a wooden spoon. Other than that, just leave it alone.
Since all rice cookers are different, start checking your garlic after about a week, although the whole process could take as many as two weeks. The paper around the bulb and individual cloves should be pulling away in places, allowing you to peek in and see how things are progressing. The garlic is done when the cloves are completely black, and have pulled away from the insides of their clove walls. Allow to cool, then pull individual cloves out from the bulb (this is an easy and oddly satisfying process). Leave cloves whole, or mash and store in an airtight container for up to six months.