The Restaurant Hack For Peeling Garlic Is A Game Changer

Peeling one clove of garlic to mince or grate into a dish is no big deal; just use the flat side of a knife or something heavy to press and crack open the clove, then slip the skin off. However, when a recipe calls for far more — a garlicky aioli, garlic confits, or the classic French recipe chicken with 40 cloves of garlic — this method of peeling garlic can be rather time-consuming. No one understands this better than restaurant sous chefs, who require plenty of peeled garlic to be prepped and ready for service every night. 

Thankfully, there is a chef's hack that can make the task infinitely easier: The trick is to soak unpeeled cloves in cold water, ideally overnight. This leaves the peels waterlogged and soft, allowing them to slide right off of the garlic with almost no effort. 

Soaking garlic cloves works on short notice, too

Of course, this garlic peeling hack only works if home cooks remember to do this ahead of time. However, even a brief soak will help make garlic skins easier to remove — just switch from cold water to hot. Place unpeeled garlic cloves in a bowl and pour in enough hot water to cover them completely. Let the cloves sit for anywhere from two to 10 minutes. The steam and temperature of the water work quickly to soften and loosen the papery skins. Scoop out the cloves, and use your fingers or a paring knife to easily remove the peels.

In addition to removing the peels, this soaking hack is ideal for dishes where you want the garlic cloves to stay whole and uncrushed. They can be scattered around a whole chicken, thrown into a stew, or mixed with roasting vegetables. Once cooked, the whole cloves are lovely in presentation and are tender and mellow — perfect for spreading on a slice of bread. The whole cloves are also beautiful when added to a glass jar to flavor olive oil or vinegar. 

A few more chef-approved garlic methods to try

Of course, soaking isn't the only way to tackle a huge pile of garlic cloves. There are a couple of other methods touted by chefs for peeling large quantities of garlic. Another you might try involves a whole lot of shaking rather than soaking. Pile the cloves into large plastic or metal bowls or glass mason jars, then cover and shake them really hard for 30 seconds to a minute; the friction from shaking breaks the skins, allowing them to fall away from the cloves. The downsides to this method are one, it's noisy, and two, it's a lot of work — but maybe you don't mind getting a workout in the kitchen.

Another way chefs get peeling is by slicing a whole head of garlic in half horizontally – in the same way you would cut a head of garlic across its equator before roasting it. To do this, use a good, sharp chef's knife to do this cleanly and quickly. Next, place the halves cut-side down on a work surface, then use your hand, the flat side of the knife, or a cutting board to press them. Press until the skins break away and the cloves slip out. This method requires some effort but a little less than shaking. Since the cloves will all be sliced in half, it's best for recipes calling for garlic to be minced or grated down. 

All of these methods produce solid results pretty quickly, so it's really all about personal preference. Shake, soak, squash, as long as you find the shortcut that works best for you and your recipe.