Think about it . . . have you ever seen a professional chef use a garlic press? It's doubtful. They tend to flatten garlic cloves with the side of their chef's knife, remove the peel and then mince the pulp with the knife blade.
But garlic presses are a very common tool in home kitchens, and most of us use them from time to time. They come in assorted shapes and sizes, and in all sorts of materials.
The most common type of press has a perforated chamber for the garlic and a plunger that pushes the garlic and juices through the small holes as the handles are depressed. Some models come with a tool to clean the perforations, which tend to get clogged.
Cylinder-shaped presses crush garlic through small holes in the bottom with the twist of a handle. These models hold up to six cloves of garlic at once and have snap-on caps so unused garlic can be stored in the refrigerator.
The simplest model we found is nothing more than a smooth, flat rock accompanied by a solid wood base. You place the garlic on the base and smash it with the rock as you would with a chef's knife.
The nine models we purchased for evaluation range in price from $3 to $30.
Note: Numbers on the adjacent chart correspond to the photograph.
Each model was evaluated on the following criteria:
* Was it easy to operate?
* Was there sufficient capacity for large cloves of garlic?
* How well did it press unpeeled garlic cloves?
* Did the handles offer good leverage? Were they comfortable?
* How easy to clean was the tool after using?
Lloyd J. Harris, head of the Lovers of the Stinking Rose, an international fan club for garlic, is of the opinion that any garlic press worth owning should be able to press unpeeled garlic. We agree. Unfortunately, many of the garlic presses rated poorly on this criterion.
In order to press garlic properly, you need a sturdy tool with good leverage. Handles should be comfortable. The garlic should be extruded through the perforations, but we found that many garlic presses allowed the garlic to escape around the edges of the plunger or through the hinge that connects the handles.
The garlic chamber of the press should easily accommodate a large clove of garlic. Built-in cleaning tools were handy, but often the point of a knife was still needed to remove the skin.
Although for the most part we would opt to use a chef's knife, there are a few instances where a tool that presses unpeeled garlic is useful. None of the least expensive models worked well on unpeeled garlic, and among those we tested we rated the J. A. Henckels and Zyliss models highest.
RESOURCES: J.A. HENCKELS (1)--Manufactured in West Germany. Pump-type action. Dishwasher proof. Available at: Cookin Stuff, Torrance and La Habra; Cook 'N' Things, South Pasadena. PEDRINI (2)--Manufactured in Italy. Pump-type action. Available with black, red, or white cleaning attachment. Available at Bed, Bath and Beyond stores; Gelson's Markets. ZYLISS (3)--Manufactured in Switzerland. Pump-type action. Available at Williams-Sonoma stores; Pioneer & Lucerne Fine Houseware & Hardware, Beverly Hills; Cook 'N' Things, South Pasadena. COOKS TOOLS (4)--Manufactured in Taiwan. Pump-type action. Available at Ralphs Grocery Company stores. VICTOR (5)--Manufactured in England. Vertical pump-type action. Designed by Robert Welch. Available in black only. Available at Cookin Stuff, Torrance and La Habra. AHNER (6)--Manufactured in Italy. Pump-type action. Available at Pioneer & Lucerne Fine Houseware & Hardware, Beverly Hills. CHEF'N CORPORATION (7)--Manufactured in China. Designed by David A. Holcomb. Snap-on cap covers end of cylinder so remaining unpressed garlic can be stored in the refrigerator. Available at Bed, Bath and Beyond stores; Cookin Stuff, Torrance and La Habra; Kitchen World, Santa Monica. THE GARLIC SMASH (8)--Manufactured in Los Angeles. Wood base is guaranteed against cracking. Available at Village Kitchen, Glendora; Rhythms, Larchmont Village; and La Paloma, West Hollywood. NORPRO (9)--Manufactured in Taiwan. Available at Pioneer & Lucerne Fine Houseware & Hardware, Beverly Hills; Irvine Ranch Farmers Market, Beverly Center, Los Angeles.