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Dining In 2 minutes 03 April 2017

Black Garlic: The Dark Magic

Black garlic offers more than just health benefits; its unique, caramel-like flavour can add great depth and richness to beef, fish, scallops, pastas, and even cheese plates.

Ask the Expert ingredients

Bjoern Alexander Panek has been working with black garlic for over a decade, ingeniously manipulating the inky black ingredient to add visual and flavourful complexity to many of his favorite and most Instagrammed creations while at Whisk and at Twenty Six by Liberty. He has become such a fan that he has even partnered with an organic farm in the New Territories to age their own garlic.
The black garlic has a soft, chewy texture with a warm, toasted caramel scent that is more reminiscent of a semi-dried fruit than its pungently spicy raw form. Many people eat a clove a day for its health benefits, but it is also a delight to snack on handfuls a day for gustatory enjoyment alone. For chefs like Panek, it is all of the above, plus the incredible versatility of the ingredient.

When did you first encounter black garlic?

That was 10 years ago when I was working as chef de cuisine to Tim Raue in Berlin. He was addicted to Asian flavors, and one day, black garlic showed up at the kitchen. We were all thinking, “What the heck is that?” But then we tasted it and started to play around with it. It has a licorice or chewy caramel-like flavour. So we made ice cream with it. We flavoured chocolate with it. We served foie gras with it.

After a while, black garlic seemed to disappear from restaurant menus for a bit, but the hype seemed to build up again when I came back to Hong Kong about six years ago. People were talking about it again. It has an interesting texture and flavour, and there is the fact that it is garlic but tastes completely different. For Asian people, I think it may taste a bit like soya sauce with some fermented and star anise elements. So there is some familiarity in its flavour on their palate.

Langoustine with Black Garlic Cake Crumbs (Photo: Bjoern Alexander Panek & Henrik Hui)
Langoustine with Black Garlic Cake Crumbs (Photo: Bjoern Alexander Panek & Henrik Hui)

Where do you get black garlic?

It is commercially available, but I work with an organic farm in the New Territories to make our own black garlic. They have an underground bunker that is warm with high humidity. That’s the perfect condition for black garlic. It takes about six to eight months to properly age underground.

Could anyone make black garlic at home?

You could make it in a rice cooker. Just wrap and seal the whole garlic in aluminum foil, and then cook in the rice cooker at around 55°C – no higher – and keep it going for weeks. After a while it starts to change, first turning brown and then turning darker and darker until turns completely black. If you take it out too early, it will still have a strong garlic flavour rather than the licorice flavour of black garlic.

It’s actually very easy, but the only problem is that your whole apartment smells!

Have you ever tried aging the black garlic even further?

I tried aging it up to one year. The black garlic gets smaller and smaller and smaller. It does get even stronger in flavour and chewier in texture. It is actually quite nice, but it does take a really long time, and I’m not sure if people would appreciate the difference enough.

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What are some of your favourite you have featured black garlic in a dish?

Black garlic is a versatile product that can be used in all areas of cooking and can be served alone as the star of a dish or can be a useful ingredient to combine with and support other flavours in a dish.

The most exciting dish for many of my customers at Twenty-Six by Liberty was the langoustine that was slow-cooked with clarified butter and served atop a lime egg yolk cream. I baked a special black garlic cake that looked like a piece of charcoal. After letting the guests smell the black garlic scent of the cake, I grated it very finely over the dish. The guests loved it!

I also served a whole black garlic in the skin, with the bulb sliced completely open across the top, and served it with coriander flower and oil. That was also a presentation that really wowed the guests.

What advice would you give to people using black garlic at home?

Black garlic is a very unique ingredient, but you can play around with it to adapt to your tastes. You can eat it on its own and it already tastes good by itself. So you can only imagine what else it could go with: beef, fish, scallops…. Eat it with cheese, slice it thinly over a salad, spread it on grilled bread, or use it as a garnish on a baked potato. Pan-fry thin slices in olive oil and add it to pasta for a nice touch.

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Bjoern Alexander Panek earned his stripes as a young chef working in the kitchens of world-renowned chefs of the likes of Tim Raue and Thomas Keller. Later helming his own kitchen in Berlin, he led Restaurant Gabriele to its first Michelin star. He is currently consulting for the Kee Group, developing their new restaurant concept to open at the end of 2017 at the Central Police Station, Hong Kong.

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