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Garlic is a key component in countless savory recipes. But we don’t always want its pungent raw flavor. Fortunately, a bit of test kitchen experimentation revealed a way to mellow its harshness.
In our Caesar dressing, every little detail counts—especially the strong flavor of raw garlic. In the past, we’ve found that cloves minced well in advance end up tasting harsh in the final dish. Would letting the grated garlic in our recipe sit for just 10 minutes while we prepared the rest of the salad ingredients have the same effect? And could steeping it in lemon juice for the same amount of time—a practice recommended by an old French wives’ tale—actually mellow it out?
We made three batches of Caesar dressing: In the first, we grated the garlic and immediately combined it with the other dressing ingredients. In the second, we soaked the grated garlic in lemon juice for 10 minutes before proceeding. In the third, we let the grated garlic rest for 10 minutes on its own before combining it with the other components.
Tasters found the garlic grated in advance without steeping tasted the harshest of the three. The other two preparations—grated garlic soaked in lemon juice and grated garlic immediately mixed into the dressing—tasted markedly milder, with the lemon juice-soaked sample making for a particularly well-balanced dressing.
Raw garlic’s harsh flavor comes from a compound called allicin, which forms as soon as the clove’s cells are ruptured and continues to build as it sits. The citric acid in lemon juice hastens the conversion of harsh-tasting allicin to more mellow compounds called thiosulfonates, disulfides, and trisulfides—the same milder-tasting compounds that form when garlic is heated. And since soaking the garlic is easy to do while preparing the other ingredients, it’s a step we think is worthwhile.
MAKE IT NOW: Our recipe for Caesar Salad is free through January 15, 2013.