Judging the Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest


I recently had the honor of judging the Third Annual Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest . Six finalists were chosen to prepare their dishes for myself and four fellow food savvy judges including Liam Mayclem from CBS 5’s Eye on the Bay ; Lynne Char Bennett, food writer and test kitchen director, San Francisco Chronicle; Ken Frank, chef and owner of Napa’s La Toque restaurant ; Carolyn Jung, author of the Food Gal blog ). Our assignment was to make decisions based on taste, use of fresh, local ingredients, appearance and appeal, simplicity, and ease of making, and originality.

Liam Mayclem and myself in front of The Culinary Institute of America after judging the Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest





In the end, it was Merry Graham of Newhall, CA who won with her Lemon Hoisin Glazed chicken on Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Sesame Rice. Mary’s recipe beat out nearly 1,200 West Coast recipes to win the $10,000 grand prize and a one-year supply of Foster Farms fresh chicken. Her recipe featured

Merry Graham was the winner of the Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest, and received $10,000 and a year’s supply of Foster Farms chicken

locally grown ingredients including lemons, asparagus and of course, Foster Farms fresh chicken.

“This recipe started out as something my family loved and I kept working on it until I felt it best represented the flavor and integrity of the fresh ingredients,” said Mary.

Mary’s recipe is below if you’d like to make it for your family. Also, stay tuned for more chicken and other poultry reipes. My new book, Culinary Birds, will be out early fall of 2013.


Lemon-Hoisin Glazed Chicken on Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Sesame Rice

Serves 4 – 6

6 Foster Farms chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, cut into 1” chunks
2 ¼ tsp salt, divided
1 tbsp minced ginger root
4 cloves garlic, chopped, divided
3 tbsp peanut oil, divided
6 green onions, chopped, with whites and greens divided
1 1/2 cups jasmine rice, rinse well and drained
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup lemon juice, divided
2/3 cup dried cherries, chopped
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
1 1/2 tbsp honey, divided
1 large lemon or two small, finely grate zest
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, divided
2 tsp black sesame seeds
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, divided
1/3 cup roasted salted almonds, roughly chopped

Mix chicken, one teaspoon salt, ginger, and half of the garlic. Set aside.

In medium saucepan over medium heat, warm one tablespoon peanut oil. Stir in onion whites, remaining garlic, and jasmine rice. Cook, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes or until beginning to toast. Add broth, half of the lemon juice and one teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 15 minutes. Uncover, fluff with fork, stir in dried cherries, sesame oil, and remaining green onions. Set aside.

In large frying pan over medium high heat, warm one tablespoon peanut oil. Add chicken and cook, stirring frequently, for 6 minutes or until no longer pink on the outside.

In small bowl, stir together vinegar, Hoisin, one tablespoon honey, remaining lemon juice, half of the lemon zest and 1/4-teaspoon red pepper flakes. Add sauce to chicken in pan and continue cooking for 10 additional minutes on medium. Raise heat to high and cook for 2-4 minutes until sauce on chicken is dark and has thickened. Sprinkle chicken with black sesame seeds. Remove pan from heat, set aside and keep warm.

In second large frying pan, warm remaining peanut oil over high heat. Add asparagus, remaining honey, red pepper and remaining salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2-4 minutes, or until asparagus is tender.

To serve, plate rice on serving platter. Top with half of the cilantro, almonds, and roasted asparagus, Top with chicken pieces. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro and lemon zest.


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John Ash and fellow chef and friend, Mei Ibach, pose with salmon dishes made at the Windsor Certified Farmer’s Market, August, 2012. Photo courtesy: Rick Tang

I recently demonstrated this recipe at the Farmer’s Market in Windsor, CA, near my home in Sonoma County. We used salmon that was line-caught locally in Bodega Bay. Before you purchase any seafood, I recommend consulting first with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch chart, which can be found online, or you can download a free pocket guide or an app for your phone.

Chef John Ash talks about sustainable seafood at the Windsor Certified Farmer’s Market. Photo courtesy: Rick Tang

This Japanese Style of roasting works equally well on fresh halibut or sea bass. I serve the resulting fish hot or at room temperature, either as the center of the plate or as part of a salad. If you are doing this fish on the barbeque, a technique that I find helpful is to place the fish skin side down on a sheet of heavy aluminum foil and cook it indirectly and covered over a medium heat. The foil prevents the fish from sticking or burning (because of the sugar in the marinade).

John demonstrating sustainable seafood recipes at the Windsor Certified Farmer’s Market. Photo courtesy: Rick Tang

If you are broiling, do the same thing and be careful not to get the fish too close to the broiler element so that it can cook without burning. I’d allow at least 4 inches between the fish and the heat source. You can serve the salmon as is, or with a noodle salad. I’ve included the recipe if you decide to do the latter. Enjoy!


Japanese Roasted Salmon served over Soba Noodle Salad. Photo courtesy: Rick Tang

Japanese Style Roasted Salmon

Serves 4

4 five ounce fillets of wild salmon with skin on
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sake or dry white wine
1/4 cup mirin
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons chopped green onion
3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
Zest and juice of one small lemon
Soba Noodle Salad (recipe follows)

Season salmon with salt and set aside.

Combine marinade ingredients stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour marinade over fish and marinate refrigerated for 2 – 4 hours. Turn fish occasionally.

To serve: Roast salmon in a preheated 450 degree oven or alternately broil or grill salmon until just done, about 4 – 5 minutes depending on thickness. Be careful not to overcook. Salmon should still be translucent in the center. Serve with Soba Noodle Salad, if desired.
Soba Noodle Salad

Makes 3/4 cup or so

1/4 cup Dashi or defatted chicken stock
2-1/2 tablespoons white (Shiro) Miso
2 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce, preferably low sodium
1/3 cup or so canola or other neutral vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chopped sweet pickled ginger

Add the stock, miso, vinegar and sesame oil to a mini processor or blender and with motor running slowly add oil to form a creamy dressing. Add ginger and pulse a couple of times to very finely chop and incorporate. Store covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Pulse in a blender if sauce separates to bring it back together before serving.

4 ounces dried soba noodles
2 cups peeled, seeded cucumbers, sliced on an angle
1 cup green onions, whites and green tops sliced on the bias
1 cup daikon radish or sunflower sprouts, gently packed
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
Japanese seven-spice powder (Togorashi), to taste (optional)
Bring 2 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Separate the noodles and drop them into the boiling water, stirring once or twice. When the water begins to boil, add 1 cup of cold water. Repeat this procedure twice cooking until the noodles are just tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain in a colander. Rinse with cold water until completely cooled, tossing gently to remove surface starch and drain well.

Toss the noodles with the dressing, cucumbers and onions. Top with the sprouts, sesame seeds, and a pinch of seven-spice powder.
Recommended Wines: Soft reds like pinot noir or merlot are nice with this salmon as long as you don’t allow it to become too sweet. A drier style Gewürztraminer or Riesling, especially those from Alsace, are also delicious with this dish.

John Ash (c) 1994
Revised 1/08


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A Special Event to Celebrate Tomato Season

Have you always wanted to have a big-name chef cook you dinner in a gorgeous setting? If so, I have a great opportunity, and you would be helping some great kids at the same time.

This year Kendall Jackson Winery has added a new Friday night event to its 16th Annual Heirloom Tomato Festival. It’s called Chef Tables in the Vineyard and it’s scheduled for the Friday September 14, 2012. It is a benefit for the Cooking with Kids Foundation, and it will be a fun evening with Guy Fieri, Mario Batali, and more than a dozen other Bay Area chefs including yours truly. Each chef is preparing a special menu for the guests at their table made with local ingredients, and served in Kendall Jackson’s Estate Vineyard.

The Heirloom Tomato Festival the next day is always a sell-out event that highlights the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes we grow here in Sonoma County. There are a few tickets left for both events, but they will go fast! Here is one of the dishes I’ll be creating for the Chefs Tables in the Vineyard event. Hope you’ll come and let me make it for you!


Serves 4

Picture by Jihad Hamad

Chickpea puree (recipe follows)
1-1/2 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and sliced
Fresh basil oil (recipe follows)
1 pound fresh buffalo mozzarella, drained and sliced
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Toasted blanched almonds
Slivered meaty black olives such as Cerignola
Corn, Daikon or sunflower sprouts

Spoon the chickpea puree onto plates. Lay the tomatoes decoratively on top and drizzle the basil oil attractively around. Lay the mozzarella slices on top of this and sprinkle on a little sea salt and black pepper. Garnish with almonds, olives and sprouts.

Chickpea Puree:
1 cup cooked chickpeas
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice or to taste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon honey
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree until very smooth.

Fresh leafy herb oils (basil, mint, chives, cilantro, parsley, shiso, etc.)
3 cups lightly packed herbs, large stems discarded
2 cups or so cups olive or canola oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Blanch herbs in salted boiling water until they turn a bright green (about 5 seconds). Drain and plunge immediately into ice water to stop the cooking and set the color. This blanching step inactivates the enzymes which causes the herb to turn brown and develop an oxidized flavor.

Squeeze herbs as dry as you can and add to a blender along with enough oil to cover by at least 2 inches. Puree to make a smooth paste. Strain thru a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth or alternately let sit for a few hours and then decant the oil off the solids. Oil should be a very bright green and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper if desired and store covered in refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

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 Wonderfully versatile piquillo peppers come exclusively from the small northern Spanish region of Navarra. Nestled between the borders of southern France and Basque territory, the town of Lodosa thrives on a busy trade in piquillo peppers. The peppers take their name from their distinctive, narrow, triangular shape: Piquillo means “beak” in Spanish.

At first glance, piquillos look like a variant of sweet bell pepper, but just one bite will tell a different story, as the familiar sweetness gives way to a sneaky heat. Navarra’s piquillo peppers are traditionally roasted over a beechwood fire, which adds a delectable smokiness to their bouquet. The final product is then packed whole in its delicious juices, ready to be sliced, stuffed and puréed into a variety of delicious dishes.

I’ve also included a recipe here for making leafy herb oils. This is a great way to use fresh herbs, and the oil can add a new dimension of flavor to grilled meats, fish, and vegetables. Let me know what creative uses YOU find for using fresh herb oil.


Serves 12 as a Tapa

Seek out a good herbed fresh goat cheese or alternately, mix in your own favorite fresh herbs. Piquillo peppers are available canned or jarred. Save any of the leftover garlic scented olive oil for other uses such as frying potatoes.

10 ounces fresh herbed goat cheese
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
12 whole piquillo peppers
1/3 cup fragrant extra virgin olive oil
5 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
12 Caper berries, drained
Fresh Basil Oil (recipe follows)

Mash the goat cheese in a bowl with the zest. Stuff the whole piquillos three-quarters full with the mixture and place on a rimmed baking sheet.

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan and fry the garlic until lightly golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Drizzle the peppers with some of the oil and briefly broil in a preheated oven. If cheese oozes out just push it back in.

To serve: Use a spatula to transfer to a platter or individual plates and top with the fried garlic and a grinding or two of pepper. Serve with a caper berry or two, if desired.

For leafy herb oils
I suggest using basil, mint, chives, cilantro, parsley, shiso

3 cups packed herbs, large stems removed
1 – 2 cups olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Blanch the herbs in lightly salted, boiling water for 2 – 3 seconds. Drain and immediately plunge into ice water to stop the cooking and set the color. This blanching step inactivates the enzymes that cause the herbs to turn brown and develop an oxidized flavor.
Squeeze the herbs very dry with your hands. Chop and add to a blender along with enough oil to cover by 2 inches. Blend to make a paste. Let sit for an hour or two and then strain thru a fine mesh strainer or a coffee filter. This might take an hour or two depending on what you are using to strain the mixture. Season with a little salt and pepper if you want, and store covered and refrigerated for up to 3 weeks. Return to room temperature before using.


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Watermelon with Chili Salt

Photo from moreno0101

   It’s going to be another hot couple of days here in Northern California!  I know most of the country has had their share of hot weather this summer.  Here is a quick, delicious recipe that will help cool you down, but still keep a little spicy heat too.

Watermelon with Chili Salt is a traditional street food in Mexico, and it’s an amazing combination of flavors.  Stir together 2 teaspoons of good sea or kosher salt along with1 teaspoon pure chili powder such as Ancho.  Sprinkle watermelon slices with the chili salt and squeeze a few drops of lime juice over.


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Fresh from Alaska

Yours truly with a fresh ling cod

I’ve just returned from an annual class I do at the Talon Lodge  in Alaska. This gorgeous place is located on a private island near Sitka and offers magnificent views of the stunning scenery. Guided fishing trips here are a lot of fun, and educational. For the classes I teach, we have a full gourmet kitchen to work in, and help educate participants in making wise, sustainable choices when cooking seafood, so we can help take care of our oceans.

Wild caught salmon from Alaska is considered one of the best seafood choices you can make, and it tastes outstanding. That is what I recommend when making this recipe. Enjoy!


Group shot with a fresh caught Halibut, and wild Alaskan salmon


Gorgeous silver salmon, fresh from the Alaskan waters

Serves 4

This is a very straightforward recipe that I like a lot. The sauce goes equally well on anything quickly sautéed,  like chicken breast, pork tenderloin medallions or vegetables. Try experimenting with different fruit vinegars of which there are many on the market. A brand that I recommend is Cuisine Perel who have a killer pear vinegar along with several other flavored vinegars . Remember that vinegars can have different strengths and you will want to adjust the amount to your taste.

3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 – 3 cups packed green shrimp shells
1/4 cup chopped shallots or green onion
1/4 cup or so pear or other fragrant fruit vinegar
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Brown sugar
1/2 cup diced fresh pears (or whatever the vinegar is made of)
4 six ounce salmon fillets, skin on preferably
Butter braised spinach (recipe follows)

Garnish: Fresh tarragon or chervil sprigs

In a heavy sauté pan heat two tablespoons of the butter and one tablespoon of oil over moderately high heat. Coarsely chop shells and add to the pan along with the shallots and stir until lightly colored. If using shrimp paste add when shallots are almost done. Add the vinegar and stock and reduce over high heat until sauce thickens slightly, about 4 minutes. Strain, pressing down on the solids and return to pan and add the cream. Reduce again to a light sauce consistency. Stir in herbs and season to taste with salt, pepper and, depending on the sweetness of the vinegar, a bit of brown sugar to taste. Set aside and keep warm (can be made ahead and gently reheated). Stir in diced fruit just before serving.

Note: Depending on strength/flavor of the vinegar you can whisk in a tablespoon or so into the sauce at this point for a more piquant finish. Sauce may “separate” or look curdled. Don’t fret! Simply buzz it back to life with an immersion or regular blender.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Season salmon with salt and pepper. Add remaining butter and oil to a heavy oven-proof sauté pan and quickly sauté salmon skin side up until lightly colored, about 2 minutes. Turn salmon skin side down and place in the preheated oven until just cooked through but still rosy in the center, about 5 minutes. Arrange a mound of spinach on warm plates, place salmon on top, spoon warm sauce around and garnish with herb sprigs. Serve immediately.
Butter braised spinach

3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cups baby spinach (loosely packed)
Drops of fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large sauté pan heat the butter and olive oil over moderately high heat. Add spinach a toss quickly to wilt, about 1 minute. Be careful not to overcook or spinach will weep. Season to taste with drops of lemon juice, salt and pepper and serve immediately.

This guy lives at Fortress of the Bear, a place that rescues bear cubs.


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Cold Soups for Hot Weather

As the temperature goes up, the last thing most people feel like doing is a lot of cooking. This time of year cries out for make-ahead dishes like cold soups. I’ve included several of my favorites below. They are great to begin meal or picnic and some can even be the meal! Being a wine guy, I’ve also added some wine recommendations. The old conventional wisdom was that one didn’t serve wine with soup. What’s with that? Why deny yourself a nice chilled glass of something special to complement these delicious bowl fulls!

Photo from adactio


Serves 4

This is a quick, and simple soup. It’s a wonderful base to which you can add all manner of things including cooked shrimp, sautéed mushrooms, spring peas, etc. I often will drizzle on a little fragrant nut oil as a garnish. Serve the soup chilled or at room temperature. We don’t always think about room temperature soups but it’s a nice variation on a warm day.

1 pound trimmed zucchini
2-1/2 cups rich chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon seeded and minced serrano chile, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1-1/2 cups good quality buttermilk
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish: Chopped fresh cilantro or mint and lime or lemon wedges

Chop zucchini in large chunks. Add broth to a soup pot, bring to a boil and add zucchini. Reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until zucchini is barely tender but still bright green. Off heat and cool.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a small, non-stick frying pan. Add onion, chile, fennel, cinnamon and cumin, and sauté until onion is soft but not brown and spices are fragrant.

Put both mixtures into a food processor and pulse until well chopped but still with some texture. Pour into a bowl and stir in buttermilk and season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill for at least 2 hours. Serve garnished with a sprinkling of cilantro and added drops of lemon or lime juice to taste.

Recommended Wine: The tart buttermilk, fresh herbs and spices would go best with a crisp, clean chilled white wine with similar flavors such as a Sauvignon Blanc. Italian whites such as Pinot Grigio and Spanish whites such as Albarino would also work fine.



Photo from Robert Verzo

Serves 6 – 8

The combination of the cucumber and honeydew is an intriguing flavor combination and also visually interesting. Being a west coast boy, I think Dungeness crab is the best, but use whatever you like. I’ve used cream here to add richness to the soup. You could also leave it out or substitute buttermilk if desired. All are good. I recommend serving this in wide shallow bowls for best dramatic effect!

2 quarts roughly chopped peeled and seeded English (burp less!) cucumbers
1 quart roughly chopped and seeded ripe honeydew melon
3 tablespoons or so fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
Drops of hot sauce
10 ounces fresh picked crab meat (1 cup or so)
3/4 cup seeded and diced yellow and/or red tomatoes
1/2 cup diced firm ripe avocado
2 teaspoons each chopped fresh chives and tarragon (or basil)

Garnish: Fresh herb sprigs and/or chopped nasturtium flowers and leaves, if available.

Add cucumbers, melon, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and sugar to a food processor and puree until smooth. Strain through a medium strainer pushing down on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Stir in cream and season to taste with salt and hot sauce. You should end up with about 1 quart of soup. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Gently combine the crab, tomatoes, avocado and herbs. Season to taste with salt, hot sauce and lemon juice. To serve: Gently press crab mixture into a 1/4 cup or so measuring cup and unmold in the center of a large, flat soup plate. Ladle chilled cucumber mixture around and garnish with herbs and/or nasturtiums.

Recommended Wine: There is a bit of sweetness in this soup and you’d want to try to find a nice chilled white with a similar level. Look for a Chenin Blanc, Riesling or Gewürztraminer that has a bit of residual sugar in it.




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About Foie Gras

Seared Foie Gras with Mango Peach Chutney

On July 1, 2012 producing, selling and buying foie gras is going to be illegal in California.

Foie gras, or “fat liver,” is a specially fattened and rich liver created by a process called gavage: overfeeding ducks with corn so that their liver grows to four times its normal size. This technique was developed by the ancient Egyptians who observed that fattening of the liver in wild ducks who were gorging themselves before beginning their yearly migration.

The result is richer, more buttery and delicate than a “normal” liver. Historically, this practice was done with geese, but the far more gentle ducks are used today. Geese can be very aggressive and cantankerous. Foie gras along with truffles and saffron are expensive delicacies and what we might call “luxury” foods. Foie gras traditionally is served barely seared or made into a pâté (terrine) or mousse.

Animal rights activists deplore gavage as animal brutality, due to the force feeding procedure and possible health

A chef at Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa plates Foie Gras

consequences to the duck or goose of an enlarged liver. To others, this argument seems moot, as the bird is raised for slaughter and not longevity; and ducks and geese have a long, collagen lined esophagus that can accept a feeding tube without pain or damage (think of a pelican swallowing a fish). In fact, visits to a duck farm that produces foie gras will show the ducks, which are free-range, patiently waiting for their human feeder each day.

There have been bans of production and serving of foie gras, most notably in Chicago in 2006 (the ban was repealed in 2008), and the quickly approaching ban in California. I personally love foie gras and see it as an artisanal product. Of course each of us will have to make up our own minds about its consumption and our ethical position. I just wish the same kind of energy were put toward banning the much more corrosive conventional farming practices for animals like chicken and pork that are much more important in the American diet.

What are your thoughts?

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Watermelon Salad


From a recipe by moi made by a student in my Salad Workshop at Chef’s Conference at UMass Amherst.


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Roasting, Poaching and Toasting Garlic

Photo from lburiedpaul

A simple way of taming garlic’s sometimes dominating flavor is to roast, poach, or toast it first.  When you cut into raw garlic you break the cell walls and it immediately begins to oxidize.  A product of that oxidation is the development of hot, often funky flavors that can overpower a dish. By applying heat, the enzymes that account for those flavors are neutralized, and the garlic will remain sweet and delicate.  This is especially important for things like pesto which often is made in big batches and stored refrigerated or frozen for later use.  You definitely don’t want the garlic to take over down the road.  With all of these methods, garlic can be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container for at least a week.

To Roast Garlic:  Slice off the top quarter or so of each garlic head to expose the cloves.  Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Loosely but completely wrap each head in a piece of foil and roast in a preheated 400-degree oven or until garlic is very soft and lightly browned, about 45 minutes or so.  To use simply squeeze the buttery soft garlic out of the head just like you’d do toothpaste.

To Poach garlic: Separate cloves but don’t peel.  Place in a small saucepan and cover with at least ½ inch of cold water.  Place on stove over high heat and bring to a boil.  As soon as water boils, drain and repeat process one more time.  Rinse to cool off cloves and now easily remove husk.

To Toast garlic:  Separate the cloves and place them unpeeled in a dry sauté pan over moderate heat.  Shake and turn them occasionally until the cloves develop toasty brown spots on the skin.  Remove, cool and the skin will easily slip off.  The additional benefit of this method is that you’ve added a lovely toasty flavor to the garlic.

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