Cloves and shellfishes

Garlic is essential in my home kitchen and essential to many home cooks. Instead of borrowing the traditional half-cup of sugar or an egg, my neighbours sometimes come by for a clove or two. Many recipes start with garlic. When cooked it develops a sweet aroma and flavour. But if cooked too long it quickly becomes burnt and an awful bitter flavour will dominate.

The use of garlic serves as a base layer of flavour in many recipes, to which other layers can be added. Often, sadly, garlic is not left alone to be the dominant flavour, but when it is, it can be arresting. 

Garlic butter and particularly garlic bread remind me of my childhood. It was always the kids’ job to make the garlic butter, a fond memory and one of my first experiences in the kitchen. Once a week, it was served with our family pasta dinner. A “French bread stick” from Coles was sliced and slathered in garlic butter, wrapped in foil, and baked. It was always carefully rationed. Recently I enjoyed garlic bread at Bar Di Stasio in Melbourne probably the first time I had eaten it in 20 years and quite possibly one of the most delicious things I’ve tasted this year. Good garlic bread requires crusty bread, an irresponsible amount of butter and a long roasting time to develop a crust that has been baked in garlic and butter. 

This recipe for garlic butter will make more than you need. Add a few tablespoons to a pan of roasted potatoes during the last few minutes of cooking, being careful not to leave it for too long or the garlic will burn. Alternatively, sauté some of the butter in a large frying pan and, when aromatic, add a large handful of still crunchy blanched green beans. Toss the beans well in the garlic butter and finish with plenty of black pepper, salt and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with roast chicken.

Garlic is still feared by many people. When eaten raw, it does linger on the breath for a while. But when cooked, the pungency is neutralised somewhat. 

Try wrapping a whole head of garlic in aluminium foil and baking in a moderate oven for half an hour. Squeeze out the mellow cooked garlic paste from each clove and use it to dress vegetables or in salad dressings. 

When buying garlic, squeeze the head of garlic with your fingertips. Poke at an individual clove of garlic and if it is soft, put it back. The garlic should be firm to hard. Australian garlic is available almost all year round. It is fresher, has a stronger flavour and usually less is required when being used raw in a recipe. Store garlic in a brown paper bag in the cupboard. If any of the cloves start to shoot before I have used them, I usually take the individual clove and push it into the ground in the vegetable garden. Weather permitting, in a few weeks you will have sweet young garlic shoots that can replace the need to buy more garlic or borrow from the neighbours.

1 . Garlic and potato soup with scallops

Serves 4

This recipe originated from a base recipe of potato and leek, with garlic replacing most of the leek. Other seafood, such as clams or mussels, also works well as a replacement for the scallops. 

- 150g peeled garlic cloves 

- 1 leek, white part only

- 250g potatoes

- 1 tbsp butter

- sprig of thyme 

- 1 bay leaf 

- 1 litre chicken stock

- ½ cup cream

- salt

- 20 scallops 

- pinch sweet paprika

Place the garlic cloves in a saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring the water to the boil and simmer the cloves for five minutes. Strain.

Finely slice the leek. Peel the potatoes and cut into two-centimetre cubes. In a medium-sized stainless-steel saucepan gently cook the leek and butter until the leek is soft but not coloured. Add the diced potatoes, garlic cloves, thyme, bay leaf and chicken stock.

Bring the soup to a simmer and continue to gently cook until the potato is tender, then remove the thyme and bay leaf and puree the soup in a blender. Pass the pureed soup through a fine sieve and stir through the cream. 

Season to taste with salt.

Reheat the soup before serving, but don’t let it boil.

To serve, heat a frying pan over high heat with a little oil.

Season your scallops with salt and fry them for one minute on each side – just enough to give them some colour without overcooking them.

Divide the scallops between warmed shallow bowls and pour the soup around them. Finish with a sprinkle of paprika.

2 . Garlic prawns

Serves 3-6

This recipe intentionally makes more garlic butter than you will need for the prawns, but it will keep for a few days in the fridge. The leftover garlic butter can be tossed through pasta, sautéed with vegetables or pushed under the skin of a chicken before roasting. Or, there’s always garlic bread.

- 18 large green prawns

Garlic butter

- 3 cloves Australian garlic, peeled

- 1 tsp salt 

- 100g unsalted butter, at room temperature 

- zest of 1 lemon

- 1 tsp chopped tarragon

- 1 tsp Pernod, optional 

- freshly ground white pepper 

Pound the garlic and salt to a paste in a mortar and pestle.

Add the butter and work it into the garlic until it’s well combined. Then mix in the zest, Pernod, tarragon and a grinding of pepper.

Peel the shells off the body of the prawns, but leave their heads and tails intact. Make a shallow incision along the back of each prawn and remove the intestinal tract. 

Heat a large frying pan on the stove and add a generous spoonful of garlic butter. Put in as many prawns as will fit in a single layer in the pan (you may have to cook the prawns in batches). 

Toss the prawns through the butter and fry them for a few minutes on each side until they turn pink and are just cooked through. Take care of the temperature of the pan at this stage as the garlic can easily burn. Sprinkle the prawns with a little extra salt if necessary and serve with some lemon wedges. Crusty bread is highly recommended for mopping the pan of its excess garlic butter.

3 . Wine pairing:

2014 Arfion pinot grigio, Yarra Valley ($26) 

– Mark Williamson, sommelier, Cumulus Inc

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 5, 2014 as "Cloves and shellfishes".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

Andrew McConnell is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.