I managed to get my hands on a couple of bulbs of fat, golden, oak-smoked garlic this weekend. (Cambridgeshire readers should head straight over to the River Farm Smokery in Bottisham for more smoked goodies.) It’s beautifully pungent stuff; years ago, I bought a plait of smoked garlic for my parents, who ended up having to keep it in the garage to prevent the whole house from taking on a smoky, garlicky taint. If you’ve not tried smoked garlic before, it’s pretty easy to imagine, but the reality is always a little startling. This is a fiercely flavoursome product. You can make a little go a long way, but I really like to use whole cloves of it in casseroles or around roast dishes. Much of this bulb found itself being used in a roast lamb dish with beans – just follow this recipe and add about eight whole cloves of smoked garlic in place of the chopped fresh stuff – you’ll need a couple of extra cloves to stuff into the skin of the lamb as well.
When garlic is smoked, its cloves soften a little and turn a lovely buttery yellow. The smoking process forces some of the natural sugars in the garlic cloves to bead on the surface of the clove, under the papery skin, becoming sticky, tacky and sweet. You can use these cloves wherever you’d use raw garlic; the whole bulb is also exceptionally good roasted. Try making roast garlic and fresh tomato pasta with a smoked bulb for great depth of flavour. I really like the roast cloves popped out of their skins and spread on a good crusty bread, sprinkled with a little salt. The squashed, roast cloves are also fantastic stirred into mashed potatoes.
Smoked garlic and honey are two flavours which, for me, seem to have been invented for each other. I kept five cloves of the garlic back to make a jar of smoked garlic honey baste. To make your own, you’ll need a jar of honey (mine is some of our local wildflower honey – anything with a delicate, flowery flavour will do, though; try clover, orange blossom or lime blossom honey) and five unblemished cloves of smoked garlic. Empty the jar of honey into a saucepan and warm it with a jam thermometer in the pan until it reaches 100° C. Put the whole garlic cloves at the bottom of a sterilised jar and pour the hot honey over them, then cover and refrigerate. The garlic will start to give its smoky fragrance up to the honey almost immediately, and the honey will have a noticeable flavour after a day or so, but for best results the jar should be left for around a month before using. Brush the infused honey over meats before roasting or grilling, use as a surprisingly delicious dressing for baked apples, or spread on some toast and nibble with a glass of whisky for a midnight snack.