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How to soften garlic in olive oil on the stove top

I'm using a recipe that says to peel and cut in half 12 cloves of garlic and put it in half a cup of olive oil with bay leaves, thyme, salt, and pepper. It says to turn the heat up to medium and when the oil starts bubbling, turn it down to low and let it bubble until the garlic is soften, "about 30 minutes."

I've attempted this twice now, and both times, my garlic burns (turns very brown) before it becomes soft. And then when I let it cool (which the recipe also says to do), it becomes rock hard! I don't understand what I'm doing wrong.

For the record, I am then supposed to strain the garlic, add a tbsp of the oil back into it, and mash it up into a paste to spread on top of a roast.

I guess another question would be if there is another method I can use to yield the same results. Can I microwave the garlic to soften it? Should I roast it? It just wouldn't have the same flavors as with the oil, bay leaf, etc. I'm so confused. Thanks!

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  1. I would roast it using all the same ingredients but much less oil (unless you need that much flavored oil for your recipe), and would also roast the garlic cloves whole and unpeeled -- they will smoosh out of their skins easily once roasted.

    1. Turn the heat down sooner... and lower.

      1. try 10 -15 minutes. then just turn off the heat and let cool in the oil.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jaykayen

          If 10-15 minutes aren't enough, you can always turn the heat on again for a few minutes and cook the cloves a little more.

        2. You have the heat too high and are essentially frying the garlic.
          I'd leave the cloves whole, use a very small sauce pan (1qt) and only let the oil "bubble" for a minute or 2 over medium heat. Then turn off the burner and let the garlic sit in the hot oil so that the residual heat sofens it. This will help prevent the garlic from browning.

          1. It would be easier to roast a whole bulb of garlic, drizzled with olive oil, wrapped in foil and placed in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 mins and then use the softened garlic mashed on your roast. Then you have the rest of the cloves to use in a variety of ways...dips, marinades, salad dressing, on vegetables, etc.

            1 Reply
            1. re: HillJ

              Agreed, except I've never known a whole head of garlic to roast to appropriate softness in 15 minutes. It usually takes about 40-50 minutes. You can roast several heads at once, mash it up, and freeze what you don't need in small 2 Tbsp. increments.

            2. I could swear I read or saw somewhere that you should add your garlic and oil to the cold pan and let them gently heat up together.


              1. When I make Aglio e olio, I mince the garlic and put in in a cold pan with olive oil. Turn the heat on low and when it just starts to bubble I turn the heat off. Repeat two or three times while I'm getting the rest of the meal ready.

                1. This is not the same thing, but I have boiled garlic cloves to temper them for things like garlic butter.

                  1. I will add the garlic to the oil cold then turn on the burner to it's lowest setting and let them slow cook longer. Always keeping an eye on the color in order to remove at the right time. Try adding rosemary and meyers lemon slices to the pot as well for a different taste.

                    1. lower and slower as suggested by other posters. will also add that "when the oil starts to bubble" bit means that as soon as there is any significant motion to the oil. don't wait for it even to be simmering because it will take too long for it to come back down.

                      1. Thanks for all the responses. Just to follow up on my experience, I did, after several more trips to the grocery store for garlic, figure it out. Obviously in my first couple attempts, I had thought about the heat issue. Simply keeping the burner down as low as it would go didn't help. It really just ended up being a time issue. I did basically what kengk mentioned -- brought it to a bubble, and turned it completely off a couple of times. All in all, it took about ten minutes. I also took GretchenS's advice to keep the paper on the cloves. I think part of my issue was, also, that when I poked the garlic it didn't seem as soft as I expected it to be, so I ended up having to err on the side of caution. You can always heat more, but you can't un-burn.

                        Thank again for all the advice! I hope that my experience helps other people with this odd method. All in all, next time I'll just roast it in the oven like usual!