Onions and Garlic

I was interested in food and cooking from a very young age. I had one of the best teachers (my mother), and have been a disciple of the likes of Elizabeth David and Delia Smith. This has taught me a great deal, such as when you fry onions and garlic you should put the onions in first, and only when they have softened add the garlic. The garlic should never brown, since it will become bitter.

Learning about Thai food makes me question such dogma. Many dishes start with cooking the garlic in hot oil until it’s golden (see, for example, Het Phat Tao-huu – Stir-fried Mushrooms with Tofu). It doesn’t taste bitter, and similarly fried garlic is often used here as a garnish on all sorts of food.

Similarly, in the West we eschew raw onion – it’s a crude taste which makes one’s breath smell bad. (Only in America, land of the hamburger, is raw onion considered food for non-philistines. Thank you, Ray Kroc.) However, with Thai food onion is often added right at the end and is little more than warmed through. See for example Muu Phat Khing – Stir-fried Pork with Ginger
– where the onion is only cooked for a couple of minutes at most.

I just wonder how much of what we’re taught about food preparation is true, and how much is just articles of faith?

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1 comment so far

  1. Tes on

    I think when you deal with different cuisines you have to have different steps. Making pasta meat sauce- onion first then garlic, Thai food- lightly brown garlic first then onion, Indian food- Onion first- then garlic, etc. I think these steps are one of the important keys that answer while different cuisines have different characters and tastes.


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