Peeling Garlic the Martha Way

A doozy of a wind storm blew in and kept me awake for much of the night. To try to lull myself back to sleep, I loaded the YouTube app on my iPad and started watching cooking videos. (Don’t judge me. It’s just something I do, and I could be watching far worse on the internet.)

garlic head on towel

Somewhere around 5:30am, I happened upon a series of videos from a woman you may have heard of named Martha, and one brief clip caught my eye. In it, she shows her legions of viewers how to “quickly and easily peel an entire head of garlic without getting that garlic smell on your hands.” Essentially, she placed a head of garlic into a medium sized metal mixing bowl, put a matching bowl on top, gripped both in both hands by the bowl rim, and shook the hell out of it. When she was done, viola! A “perfectly peeled head of garlic, and no mess.” I know that Martha had some legal troubles a few years ago, and I found myself wondering if perhaps they just wouldn’t let her play with knives while behind bars because this seemed like an awful lot of work to do something I never found particularly arduous to begin with.

I imagined that if I actually tried this, it would turn out like that video telling people to blow hard boiled eggs out of their shells rather than peel them – a momentary waste of time with no appreciable results other than rude noises and having looked very silly. It’s amazing what foolishness the unending sound of howling wind will make you think is a good idea, because somehow by mid-morning it seemed like something I just had to do. And if I’m going to do something this odd in the kitchen, you know I’m going to tell you about it.

I did exactly as instructed, shaking the bowl for 30 seconds and checking the contents. About half the head was broken apart into cloves, with one peeled, and I noticed the strong scent of garlic that said I was damaging the surface of the cloves. I decided to brave the rather loud noise and keep shaking. After about a minute total,  the entire head was broken up and all but one clove was naked and ready to use. One remained resolutely in its husk (truth be told, exactly as I saw one do on Martha’s video – the difference being I’m telling you while she glossed over it and some production intern removed it from the bowl when the camera cut).

A head of garlic, peeled by shaking inside two metal bowls. No camera tricks.

A head of garlic, peeled by shaking inside two metal bowls. No camera tricks.

So, here is what I have learned:

  • Yes, shaking the garlic will more-or-less peel the entire head.
  • You may have to shake a while longer than Martha suggests.
  • It’s going to make a lot of noise.
  • You’re definitely going to do a little surface damage to the cloves, but that isn’t really a problem from a culinary perspective.
  • You’re still going to get garlic smell all over your hands when you remove the cloves from the bowl and actually do something with them.
  • Instead of just washing your hands, a cutting board, and a knife when finished peeling the old-fashioned way, you now also have two medium mixing bowls to contend with.
  • The essential oils and juices of garlic cloves are very sticky after even a few seconds, so lots of little papery bits of skin will stick to the bowl and your fingers, and a few will reattach to the cloves themselves.
  • A person with reasonable knife skills can clean and fully prep an entire head of garlic in the time it takes to use this method to peel it only.
  • Sometimes Martha really knows what she’s talking about, and sometimes she just needs to make a video.

By the way, if you’d like to get that garlic (or onion) smell off your hands, wash them with soap containing a little natural lemon oil or citric acid, or rub a slice of lemon on them before washing. I am blessed with a mother-in-law who sends me a few bottles of a wonderful lemon hand soap every year at Christmas because she knows I love it so, and I enthusiastically recommend this product here. If you use this garlic peeling “trick”, you’re going to need it.

My favorite hand soap for the kitchen, this lemon scented kitchen miracle is great for getting the strong smell of members of the onion family off my hands.

My favorite hand soap for the kitchen, this lemon scented kitchen miracle is great for getting the strong smell of members of the onion family off my hands.


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