Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Foraging Floyd: Wild Garlic (not Ramps)

This little bugger grows everywhere:
Whatever you call it; onion grass, wild garlic, that invasive s%#t I can't get outta my lawn, it is often the bane of landscapers, gardeners, and lawn maintenance freaks.  To me it's another flavor to add to the pot.  It's what carries us over until our garlic and shallots come in.Wild garlic has a flavor that is much milder than domestic garlic or wild ramps.  It tastes more like a shallot with the garlic flavor more predominant and the onion tones less so.  The green parts can be used like chives but are more fibrous than chives or the scallions they resemble.
When used fresh in cooking applications the fibrous nature of the green parts is not apparent.  Chopped raw and used in salads or dressings it's a little noticeable but not annoyingly so.  Dried, it's a little more difficult to deal with.  My preferred way of using them fresh is to add them to sautes, sprinkle them like chives on roasted vegetables and meats, or warm them in oils for dipping or finishing dishes.  To preserve them for use throughout the year I make them into paste and dry and powder them.

I make pastes of practically all my herbs for winter use.  I've tried drying them but herb oils are volatile and except for strong ones like rosemary they don't retain their pungency for very long.  I've tried chopping them and freezing in ice cube trays but it's a pain in the butt, they tend to freezer burn, and they're a watered down mess to use.  Based on the technique for making pesto, frozen herb pastes are my favored form of storage.  The following technique works well with all green herbs.

Wild Garlic Paste
Roughly chop the wild garlic and drop it in the bowl of the food processor.
Pulse the FP a few times and then run until the wild garlic is somewhat finely chopped.

Drizzle in the oil of your choice (I use olive) a tablespoon at a time, running the FP after each addition, until the wild garlic and oil become more of a paste.  Be sparing of the oil, it's more of a medium and lubricant to get you to the paste stage.  Due to the fibrousness of the green stalks you won't end up with a smooth paste, it will appear very finely minced.
I like to store herb pastes in snack size zip lock bags.  I can load the bags with the paste, zip them almost shut, squeeze out the air, and store them flat in the freezer.  Because the oil keeps the paste from freezing hard I can pull a bag straight from the freezer, break off as much as I want, squeeze the air out and return the bag to cold storage.  I find the color of the herb is preserved better as well which in some applications is important to me.  Remember to label and date the bags.
Herb pastes are very versatile and they're especially nice for spreading under the skin of poultry.  It's easier to distribute the paste more evenly than a compound butter and helps to lock moisture in the meat.

WARNING: DO NOT store herb and oil pastes in the refrigerator long term.  Refrigerator storage is only good for 2 weeks.  As with garlic in oil, it is the perfect anaerobic environment to grow botulinum spores and toxin.  Always store herb pastes in the freezer.

Powdered Wild Garlic
I have Joel over at Well Preserved to thank for turning me on to powdering dehydrated produce for use as a spice.  I took his advice and tried powdering some shitake mushrooms to add to soups, risottos, sauces, gravies, and more and was so delighted with the results that this year I'm going to try many more powders.  One of his favorites is beet powder.  I'm already sold on Clementine dust.  Since wild garlic is a fairly assertive flavor, I went against my own prejudice and dehydrated some for powdering.

Roughly chop the wild garlic and spread it on a lined dehydrator rack.  If you don't have a dehydrator, set your oven on it's lowest temperature, spread the garlic on a cookie sheet and pop it in the oven with the door propped open a little.
I set the dehydrator on 125F and 4 hours.  I think it was dry before the 4 hours were up but I was off playing with the chicks and didn't check it.  If you're doing it in the oven keep an eye on it since the oven temps are much higher than the dehydrator.

When the garlic is dry and cool, place a handful in whatever appliance you're going to use to powder it.  I found what works best is my little coffee grinder.  There will be some heat/moisture build up from the friction of grinding the garlic and when you dump it out of the grinder it will clump together but we'll deal with that later.
When you have all the garlic ground into powder, set your oven for it's lowest setting and allow to preheat.  Spread the powder out on a cookie sheet and place it in the warm oven with the door propped open.
Check it at the 2 minute mark.  Depending on your oven's temperature the residual moisture may be gone and it may be dry and powdery.  If not, return to the oven and check again in two more minutes.  It shouldn't take more than 5 or 6 minutes to get rid of the dampness and leave the wild garlic powdery.  Pull from the oven and allow to cool completely then check it again.  If there's any damp left it will be easier to feel in the cool powder.  You don't want to expose the powder to heat at this stage any more than necessary or you'll lose more of the natural flavor oil than you want.
 When completely cool, place the powder in an airtight container, label, date and store.


  1. fantastic. Thank you for sharing. I imagine wild garlic is growing around me, I have never seen it. I will keep my eye out. What a great way to preserve a wild edible!

  2. Thanks so much! I've wondered since I was a kid if these could actually be eaten! As they are in full swing now, I'll be giving this a try!

  3. Thank you for such a helpful and informative post. I have a ton of these in my yard and thanks to you, they will be put to good use. What type of airtight container works best? What type of expiration date do these items have?

    1. Hi Amy! Frozen herb pastes are at their best for up to a year from the freeze date. I have a some that are a few months older that I'm using and while they're not primo, they're still pretty good.

      The powdered garlic (and really almost any dried herb) IMO, tops out flavor-wise after 6 months although many sources say to replace dried green herbs after a year. If you open the jar and the herb in there isn't fragrant, it's probably over the hill. Honestly, I've never dried enough wild garlic to have to make that call. We go through it pretty fast.

      I like bail lidded jars with rubber gaskets for air-tight storage, especially if they're a tad difficult to pop open. Any container with a tight fitting lid will work, glass, plastic, or tin (like the loose tea containers). If you do a lot of canning, old canning jars that are nicked or chipped and no longer suitable for putting up foods are perfect for storing dry foods. Just remember to keep your dry foods, herbs, and spices out of direct sunlight.