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How do you keep the garlic from burning?

In lots of Asian recipes, the first step is to sautee the garlic, then add the other ingredients.

I always remove the garlic after sauteeing it, because I'm always afraid it will burn and give the dish a bitter taste.

After all, if the wok is hot enough to brown meat (chicken) or vegetables, it's certainly hot enough to continue cooking the garlic after it's started to brown.

I'd appreciate hearing from anyone who's had experience in this area or thought about this.

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  1. I cheat- I USUALLY drop the garlic in after the meat is browned. Then the addition of the other ingredients and the constant movement in the wok keeps it from burning

    1. You know, I find that really interesting. We have a friend from Hongkong who loves to cook for other people, and whenever he does a stir-fry, he always throws in the 'aromatics' -- such as garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes -- first... even though it's all over high heat, and by the time the meat goes in, the garlic is browned and crunchy. I find that if you want true garlic flavor, i.e. not burnt, it's better to wait with the garlic and onion to throw in at a later point -- be that the 'true' Asian way or not.

      But I'd also be interested what other hounds have to say ----

      1. try adding the garlic (& ginger, if using) after the onions, which are usually in most recipes. let the onions cook for a minute or so, depending on size of pieces, then add garlic, ginger, lemongrass, other aromatics, a beat before the other ingredients. the larger veg pieces will absorb more heat & prevent the garlic from burning. otherwise, put in garlic/ginger, saute 2-3 strokes max, and immediately start putting in the other ingredients so that the heat has something to work on!

        1 Reply
        1. re: soupkitten

          I agree. I was taught to fry the garlic first, but now I break down the aromatics much as you do. Onions, then after a minute, garlic and ginger. One mustn't wait too long, otherwise you don't get the necessary color on the garlic and end up with a weak flavor.

        2. I usually add halved pieces of garlic in the beginning to give the oil some flavor w/the intention of fishing them out and adding the minced later in the cooking so I don't end up with brown (or black), burned bits. It may not be the authentic way, but it works very well.

          1. When the garlic is just becoming fragrant - and starting to turn non-shiny, add your meat or veggies. Don't wait until it's brown and crispy. As soon as you add the meat or veggies the pan will lower in temp. Keep stirring and it shouldn't burn.

            1. I learned chinese home cooking from a woman from Hong Kong. The method I learned was to whack a whole garlic clove with the side of the cleaver, and drop it into the hot oil (along with a chunk of similarly whacked ginger) in the very first step. It should sizzle a little bit, but the oil isn't (or shouldn't) hot enough to brown to the garlic. You may keep it in there, and remove it after the dish is finished. It will be browned by that point. Also, if you use chopped garlic, don't mince so finely.

              Now, there is a difference in home cooking and street/restaurant cooking. Commercial cooking involves hotter flames, lots more oil, and skilled chefs, while the home cook usually must cope with a stove that doesn't get quite as hot, and we measure out the oil sparingly. With a very hot wok, everything goes in at a faster rate, and everything is kept in motion -- tossing and stirring with a high flame.

              Extra oil helps in preventing burning -- the small pieces of garlic have less contact with the actual steel surface which is much hotter than the oil.

              1. I once I tried adding the garlic after the meat (for fear of burning) only to be reprimanded by asian parents who say that the most important thing is the adding the aromatics first ensure the flavors to permeate the meat all throughout its cooking process. The trick is starting with medium heat at home and quickly cooking the aromatics then turning it up to high and constantly stirring all the food so that nothing burns but is all evenly cooked. I guess if you get it down right, the adding of all the ingredients makes the temp of the pan drop enough so that you won't end up with gross burned garlic. It's a skill I'm still trying to attain.

                1. First, I know this flies in the face of conventional method/technique, so shoot at me if you must.

                  Cold pan, cold oil, add garlic and/or ginger, bring to temp on moderate heat. When garlic begins to sizzle, crank it up and proceed with dish. You get well flavored oil without the burnt goodies worry.

                  I don't agree that a pan always needs to be screaming hot to get great results in a home kitchen.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: OldDog

                    When i want to infuse the oil with garlic flavor, I do as old dog does, almost sweating the garlic.

                    Sometimes, when I want a really pronounced garlic and ginger taste, I'll purree both with a little water to make a paste, then drop it in the oil - ala SE indian style...the water slows down the cooking and ensures no burning...once it's evaporated, I add spices, meats, and other ingredients.