How to Safely Peel and Cut Garlic With a Chef's Knife
First, it was eating pineapples. Now, it's peeling garlic—the Internet is seemingly determined to prove we’ve been doing everything wrong. Earlier this month, Twitter user @VPestilenZ posted a video showing someone taking a knife to a garlic head, stabbing it in, and with a tug, voilà! The clove emerges smooth and skinless, and several more follow with quick, deft yanks. The tweet captivated everyone from Chrissy Teigen to The New Yorker’s Helen Rosner, who attempted the trick herself (to slightly gory results). After all, there are plenty of “hacks” out there that claim to make peeling garlic a breeze—microwaving it, shaking between two metal bowls, or my preferred method, smashing it with the flat side of a knife. Could the yank also work? Spolier alert: it’s not the safest method, to say the least, and we asked a James Beard Award-winning chef to confirm.
“Oh God. First of all, I don’t even like to hear the word ‘yanked’ with a knife,” says Ann Kim, the chef behind Minneapolis’s Young Joni. “I always say when you’re dealing with knives, safety first. My husband, bless his heart, he’s an amazing business partner and he’s our CFO, but one thing that frightens me is when he’s handling a knife. I think part of it is he just doesn’t know how to handle it in his hands, and that’s where you need to start. How you properly hold the knife. And then you can go to town.”
During our chat, Kim, who recently partnered with Wüsthof knives, told us how you should properly hold a knife—she prefers the claw grip—as well as a tried and true way to peel your garlic with an eight-inch chef’s knife that doesn’t involve stabbing or yanking. (Your fingers will thank you.) Here’s what she had to say:
Before you start—make sure you’re holding your knife correctly
“There’s a couple of different techniques, and it’s really about what feels comfortable to you,” Kim says. “I personally like what’s called a claw grip. Open your hand, make sure that the knife is balancing well in the palm of your hand. (And by that I mean not the blade.) And basically, with the lower three fingers of your hand, hold the knife around the handle with the middle finger on the bolster. Then, your thumb and index finger are going to clasp the blade left and right. I know this seems really basic, but you’d be surprised. When people don’t cook much or use knives, they really do not understand how to hold a knife. They’ll grasp it from the tip, they’ll grasp it too far in the center, and that freaks me out a little bit. Recipe for disaster.”
Curl your fingers inward on the hand not holding the knife
“Make sure that they’re curled under to face the inside of your palm. Never have them exposed flat on top of the vegetable,” she says. “What you’ve created then is a wall, and you’re using the side of the knife to really guide your slicing movements. If you have a really sharp, high-quality knife like a Wüsthof, you can basically do it with some ease of precision. You don’t really have to lift your knife up from the cutting board, it’s a gentle rocking motion back and forth. Take your time, and allow the knife to do the work for you.”
Now, for the garlic … start off with a bruise
“I like to bruise the garlic. You remove the piece of garlic from the bulb, and lay it flat on the cutting board,” Kim says. “I will take the flat side of the knife, not the cutting edge, and place it on top of the garlic and gently put some pressure on the top of the knife, until you’ve basically smashed the garlic in the skin. There’s two reasons for this: one, it releases some of the essential oils from the garlic, so when you’re cooking it, you’ve already started developing that process. And secondly, it easily and simply detaches the skin from the clove. It peels right off, so you don’t have to struggle to remove the peel with your fingers.”
Then, rough chop
“Once you have that piece of garlic bruised, you can use the same chef knife," she says. "I like to, in a rocking motion, just slice really thinly from the tip to the end, the rough part you would normally throw away. Once you get to that piece, just remove it, throw it away, and then I just basically take my knife and rough chop. I [take the hand that's not the cutting hand] and put it on top of the blade, and again, just a rocking motion. Rough chop until you get it to the dice that you want.”
But if you want more garlic flavor, you can skip the rough chop
“Say you’re making a marinara sauce, or something where you actually just want to release the flavors into the oil,” she says. “What I’ll often do is just skip the rough chop, you’ve already got some of the oils released from the smashing of the garlic. I’ll add [the thin slivers of garlic] to the oil and let that release. And then add tomato sauce, it’s great for sauces where you want to have that garlic essence in there.
Wüsthof Classic 8 Inch Chef’s Knife, $150 (list price $165) at amazon.com