Garlic, ginger, chillies and herbs are some of my very favorite things! I like to use them liberally, and often. I want them to be near me at all times, with the minimum effort on my part.
This is why I make and freeze purées; they speed up my workflow when I am cooking. I just need a little forward thinking, a little time set aside, a high-powered blender, and some plastic wrap. I usually have at least half a dozen of these concentrated flavor bombs ready to go at any time. This is the ‘blend, roll and freeze’ technique.
Here’s the why and how:
Garlic is king of flavors! I have always believed that when a recipe says to use one clove, you should probably just go ahead and use five. The problem is I hate peeling the stuff. It takes up too much time, I end up with sticky, garlicky hands and a big papery mess, and then I have to chop the stuff. And I know very well, I will pull off the big cloves, and never use those teeny-tiny ones near the centre of the bulb, and the whole thing will sit on a shelf in my refrigerator, slowly drying out into a useless, mummified lump of nothing, next to that gnarly old ginger root and the shrunken chilli peppers. I thought I had the ingredients for an awesome stir-fry, and upon closer inspection, I do not.
And what about my herbs? In the summer, I can grow them on my back porch, and pluck off whatever I need on a daily basis, but the summer is long gone. I hate having to go the grocery store and pay top dollar for a little plastic packet of some herbs I will inevitably want more of, (thyme), and some I will never need that much of, (always rosemary).
My solution is to make a purée in the blender, with just enough oil to get it moving, roll it up into a cylinder and store in the freezer. The oil prevents it from freezing too hard, so I can pull it out and slice off a chunk whenever needed. This was a game-changer for me where garlic is concerned, and if you only try this technique with one thing, garlic should be it. It is just as good as fresh. If you have the time, buy it in bulk, plonk yourself in front of the TV and spend the whole morning peeling the stuff. (Pro tip: Open a window, and make sure your spouse is out for the day.) It is also fine to buy fresh, ready-peeled cloves, and these days, I tend to treat myself.
But let us move beyond garlic, and see if the same technique works with ginger, chillies and herbs:
Ginger: Peel it roughly, slice against the grain to break up the fibers and toss in the blender.
Blend with some neutral oil on high-speed till you have a nice smooth paste.
Perfect! Now let’s try some red jalapenos.
This worked just fine, (very much like a pesto), but it is completely smashed to smithereens, and begins to oxidize very quickly. Next time, I think I will treat the leaves a little more delicately, finely mince them by hand, and combine with some soft butter before rolling and freezing. Fine herbs probably deserve to be treated a bit finer than this.
You can freeze this any way you want. For anything bulky like ground meats and thick stews, I like to fill a ziploc bag and lay it down flat on the shelf. My freezer now resembles a kind of meaty filing-cabinet, (which is exactly what I want my freezer to be!). Just don’t mess about trying to fill ice cube trays with this stuff. The risk of ending up with a garlicky Manhattan somewhere down the line is just not worth it. This is my method of choice…
The cylindrical roll. If you work in restaurants long enough, you will become fairly adept at rolling various foodstuffs into cylinders. We like it for presentation purposes and portion control. However, when you are at home with your loved one, and they casually inquire why they are eating cylindrical chicken again? Is it really necessary? And you don’t have a good answer? It might be time to re-evaluate those restaurant habits. Here though, it is purely practical – I like having a uniform shape that can be cut easily. And also, maybe I just like rolling things into cylinders?
So pay attention, this is a great technique for presentation, especially applicable to fancy-looking desserts with frozen elements, think ice cream, mousse and parfait.
Lay down a length of plastic wrap on your counter and spoon in an even layer of your chosen semi-liquid puree.
Fold the bottom half gently over to the top, trying not to trap any air-pockets, making sure the dry edges touch, forming a seal.
Fold over again and again, until all sealed up.
Now, pinching both the ends together and tightening them, forming a kind of sausage, roll it along the counter top until the ends are thoroughly twisted and a tight cigar shape is formed. You can tie the ends off or just tuck them underneath, the cling-film should stick to itself. Freeze until needed.
Now, you have a bunch of frozen flavors ready to go, slice off as much as you need, throw them in your soups, stews and sauces, and get yourself cooking that little bit quicker!
If you could use a new workhorse blender, stop in either location of The Chopping Block to see how our favorite, the Vitamix, works. We use it quite often in our cooking classes!