Mongolian Stewed Garlic

紅燒蒜頭

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Yields 1 cup richly seasoned garlic, enough to serve

    8–16

    as a condiment to highlight other foods.

Appears in

This is a condiment for garlic lovers and sensualists only!—a glossy, gem-like heap of individual garlic cloves, turned creamy and mahogany brown by a rich stewing sauce. It was inspired by tales of a dish eaten by a friend in the home of a princely Mongolian living in Taiwan.

  • To make it, you will need very fresh, hard garlic of the more delicate rose-hued variety, and a light, unsalted stock that can be made easily at home from chicken bones. Otherwise use water, and, if the garlic is old or green at the core, don’t do the dish at all. Tinned stock and bad garlic give medicinal results.
  • This is a no-hands, no-work bit of cooking. The garlic stews on its own for hours and will keep for a week or more.

Ingredients

  • 4–5 very large, rock-hard heads of garlic, with huge cloves and a rose-hued skin, or enough smaller heads to yield 45–50 fat, firm cloves (do not use “elephant” garlic)
  • tablespoons black soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry
  • ½ cup light, unsalted chicken stock or water
  • 2–3 tablespoons finely crushed golden rock sugar

Method

Preparing the garlic

With your fingers, carefully pull apart the heads of garlic, separating the individual cloves from the rooty base. Remove most of the papery, white outer peel, leaving intact and unbroken the thicker, rose-hued skin which encases each clove. Do not use any cloves that are soft, bruised, or half-peeled.

Stewing the cloves

Combine the soy, wine, and stock in a Chinese sand pot or a small, heavy pot that will hold the garlic snugly. Bring the liquids to a steaming, near-simmer over low heat, then add the cloves, and stir to combine. Stew the mixture 5–10 minutes, scatter in the sugar, and stir to dissolve. Cover the pot, check after several minutes, and adjust the heat to maintain a steamy, near-simmer with few or no bubbles. Cover and stew the garlic 3½ hours. Lift the lid occasionally to check that the liquids are not boiling, and at the same time swirl the pot to coat the cloves with sauce.

When done, remove the lid partway and let the cloves sit for 2 or more hours before eating, swirling the pot occasionally to distribute the sauce.

Serve the cloves tepid or at room temperature, in the sand pot or in a small bowl to show off their rich color, or in individual dip dishes alongside each plate. Just before serving, spoon on a bit of sauce.

To eat the garlic, crush a clove lightly against the roof of your mouth. Let the creamy pulp dissolve on your tongue, then discard the peel.

Cool, the garlic may be refrigerated for a week or more in an airtight glass jar. Rotate the jar occasionally to distribute the sauce. Leftover sauce is excellent on cold noodles, or as a garlic-tinged accompaniment for meats or dumplings.