Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Black Garlic for Black Friday

While others are rhapsodizing over the best way to prepare turkey, I'm here to talk to you about black garlic. Black garlic is in fact the white garlic we know and love, only fermented. It is popular in some Asian styles of cooking but seems to be all the rage in fancy kitchens across the country. You can purchase it online but it is also available at Kalustyan's here in NYC.

In addition to the nutritional properties of regular garlic, black garlic offers the added bonus of fermentation. Just like sauerkraut and kimchee before it, fermented foods are full of probiotic critters that help balance gut ecology. Gut ecology is key to good health and many gut pathogens have been implicated in disease and chronic conditions like autoimmune disease, obesity, digestive system disorders, and even cancers.

Unfortunately our gut ecology is easily forgotten about day to day. We fill our bellies with foods that can damage the lining of our guts (grains and legumes) or with foods that promote the growth of harmful bugs (sugars). Perhaps worst of all, we quickly seek out antibiotics at the first sign of a sniffle, and in the process wipe out all gut bugs; good and bad.

Making fermented foods part of your regular diet is key to optimizing gut ecology. Even if you already take a probiotic supplement, eating fermented foods should be routine. Since the digestive tract is the gateway for pathogens to enter your body, keeping this system healthy is vital for proper immune function and good health. You may be surprised that by simply improving gut bacteria, you can drastically affect your health. Beyond the digestive system problems you might associate with poor gut health, symptoms as diverse as fatigue, weight gain, skin problems, depression, and autoimmune-type conditions may be exacerbated by imbalance of gut flora. For example, the feel good hormone serotonin is produced in large part in the intestines. Also, the mucus that healthy intestines secrete is loaded with antibodies that bolster the immune system.

Imagine this: the surface area of the digestive tract is estimated to be the size of a football field. The size of a football field...that's a lot of bugs! A football field full of bacteria helping you digest your food and protecting you from harmful pathogens. If the digestive team is wiped out, you won't absorb nutrients from foods much less those supplements. If the defensive team is wiped out, you're more susceptible to get sick.

So how do you cook with the stuff? Black garlic. The flavor is both sweet and savory. It has the subtle sweetness of roasted garlic with a slight pungency from fermentation that satisfies those umami receptors. It is at the same time earthy and meaty. Best of all there's no lingering garlic breath.

Black garlic can be a little hard to work with. Its not firm like traditional cloves that easily mince under your knife. Instead the cloves are soft and sticky—making chopping a challenge. I find that sliding the edge of your knife over the cloves to mash them to a paste works best. A mortar and pestle would be another great way to mash the cloves into something usable.

Black Garlic Crusted Steaks

2 6-8 oz filet mignon (or your favorite cut)

4-5 large cloves of black garlic

Preheat the oven to 450. Trim your steaks and pat dry with paper towels. Allow them to come to near room temperature while the oven preheats. Mash the cloves of garlic using the edge of your knife until you form a thick, uniform paste.

Season the steaks with generous amounts of salt and pepper. Heat a heavy skillet (cast iron is great) with 2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil or olive oil. Once the pan is very hot when you put your hand over it, add the steaks. Sear one side without touching the steaks for 4-5 minutes depending on thickness. Flip the steaks, quickly spread the black garlic over the seared side then place the skillet into the hot oven to finish cooking for another 4-5 minutes. Check for doneness, let the steaks rest a few minutes, then enjoy.

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