The garlic in the pictures is a PR sample from Muhoksen Parooni
Garlic confit. A dream… or a nightmare? If you’ve ever tasted soft roasty garlic that’s been poached low and slow in oil, you already know. This is what dreams are made of! But the dream turns into a nightmare of the worst kind, unless garlic confit is made and stored properly.
Considering how many recipes there are online for this simple dreamy method of cooking garlic, I’m perplexed with how many mention absolutely nothing about botulism. Oh yes. I’m talking about the scar illness caused by a botulinum toxin, that can lead to a fatal paralysis. The risk of getting botulism from garlic confit is of course small, but it still exists… And I for one do not want to play Russian roulette with this one! Therefore I’m asking you to read the whole post this time and leaving out the “skip to recipe” button too.
Botulism is really no small matter, although it is extremely rare. I mean, who’d want to get paralyzed at all, let alone possibly suffocate to death as their respiratory system paralyzes? Not me! Although confit garlic is to die for, I don’t mean it literally…
Botulism is the potentially fatal illness caused by a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The symptoms include weakness of limbs, trouble speaking and blurred vision, and although that sounds the same as having one too many glasses of wine, the illness may lead to a total paralysis. Whilst being fully conscious… Talk about a nightmare! The bacterium can be found on soil and waters everywhere, but as such they are not yet dangerous. The bacterial spores produce the botulinum toxin when exposed to low oxygen levels and certain temperatures – like in the case of storing a jar of garlic submerged in oil on the countertop. So: a jar of simple garlic in oil may become a deadly thing, if stored in room temperature.
It sounds kind of wild that this bacterium survives the long exposure to heat, but it does. That’s why you need to handle and store the garlic confit properly! The last case of botulism took place in 2011 here in Finland, and the case involved badly stored fish eggs. In fact, I didn’t find information of anyone ever getting botulism from confit garlic here in Finland. But even though these cases are rare everywhere, I wouldn’t take my chances.
A case of botulism panic
NOTE! I am NOT an expert of food science nor that of botulism either. I highly recommend you to seek out information regarding botulism from your local food and healthcare officials. Here in Finland those would be for instance Finnish Food Authority and Finnish Institute for Health and Wellfare (links to pages in Finnish, read more in English at WHO). The information I’ve gathered below is based on a frantic online search one night, as I’d gobbled down half a jar of confit garlic and THEN read about the botulism risk. As someone with a vivid imagination and a tendency for paranoia, that was not one of my best nights…
Here’s what I gathered to overcome the panic and be brave enough to make garlic confit again:
- Once your garlic confit is done, cool it down as fast as possible (in an ice bath for instance), and unless you use everything right away, move the jar into the fridge immediately. Never leave the jar at room temperature. Throw away any garlic confit along with its oil if left to sit on the table.
- Store the garlic confit in the coldest part of your fridge, below 3 degrees celcius. Make sure your fridge is cold enough! Botulin toxins start to grow in temperatures over 3°C.
- Don’t make more than you can eat withing 2-3 days of making.
After freaking out for hours, I finally found this article about canning and botulism which informed me the following: “The conditions that allow spores to develop include low acidity, moist conditions, low oxygen (less than 2 percent) and warm temperatures between 40 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit (4 and 49 degrees Celsius). Under these conditions, the spores can produce deadly toxins within 3 to 4 days.” The batch I’d eaten was made the day before and luckily, I had properly stored it in the fridge. Thank goodness the recipe I’d used instructed for it to be stored in the fridge, although there was no mention about the reasons. Even so, I ended up checking for possible symptoms over a few more days. And falling asleep didn’t come easy that night! Who knew a jar of dreamy soft garlic could be such a nightmare?
“Confit” refers to a French method of cooking and storing an ingredient in (its own) fat (although it seems to have originally referred to fruits preserved in sugar syrup). You can confit for instance meat and veggies, such as duck, goose, tomatoes… and garlic. I hope you aren’t too scared of trying it, because it’s incredibly easy! You simply cover a bunch of garlic cloves with oil and cook them low and slow until soft and golden. Some like to add spices like peppercorns, herbs or chili, but I’ve been making this with just the two main ingredients.
The handsome super fresh Finnish garlic in the pictures from Muhoksen Parooni! I haven’t had such juicy garlic in my hands in ages. Literally – you know how fresh garlic gets your fingers all sticky? Well, mine were sticky indeed! Although I would ideally be using garlic as fresh and succulent as this raw, poached in oil this garlic was like candy. SO GOOD! Being able to make a huge batch and having it constantly around would be so nice! But, for the sake of my peace of mind – and good night’s sleep – I won’t ever be making garlic confit for more than a few days worth at a time.
- 2-3 heads of garlic
- 2-3 dl extra virgin olive oil
- peppercorns (to taste)
- chili flakes or sichuan peppercorns (to taste)
- bay leaves (to taste)
- fresh rosemary or thyme (to taste)
- You can also make the garlic confit on stove top, cooking the cloves on low heat until they soften up and turn golden. Try to use the smallest pot you have so you can fully submerge the cloves without needing to add a huge amount of oil!
- In some recipes, the cloves are cooked in their skins - you can then squeeze out the soft garlic to use it.
- Regarding how much spices to add, it's totally up to your preference. I'd start by adding around ½ teaspoon of peppercorns, chili flakes or Sichuan peppercorns, and a few bay leaves and/or sprigs of herbs to this amount of garlic and oil.
- Peel the garlic cloves. Try not to crush them - crushed cloves tend to break into the oil as they soften.
- Put the garlic cloves into a small oven proof dish. Cover generously with oil. Add your spices of choice, if using!
- Cook the garlic in an oven set to 100°C / 212°F until it's golden and super soft. Cool the garlic and the oil immediately in an ice bath and move to a jar. Put the garlic confit immediately in the fridge, to the coldest part, below 3°C (37,4°F). To be safe, NEVER leave the garlic confit in room temperature, and throw it away if you forget it on the countertop. You do not want to mess around with a risk of getting botulism!
- Use the garlic confit and the garlic oil within 3 days of making it. You can mash up those soft cloves to all kinds of dips, soups, sauces, purees, mashes... and use the garlicy oil in savory cooking!