Three years ago we came to the Gilroy Garlic Festival, and honestly we didn’t have a good time. We felt that parking was too far from the festivities, the garlic ice cream samples were miniscule, and there wasn’t enough garlic-laced food for eating there – plenty of garlicky sundries for taking home, but limited to the world-famous garlic fries and garlic ice cream to eat on site. Since then we’ve been telling people that it’s a “once in a lifetime” event because it’s only worth going to once, just to say you’ve been. Now that we have Seasoning And Salt, we wanted to return and find out if things were the same. We brought Zach’s brother Will to help us compare, and let’s just say, we’re eating crow for dinner.
We lucked out that today was about 15 degrees cooler than average, but we thought we were going to have to trek down and then up a gargantuan hill on a dirt path. It was a huge surprise, then, to see chartered buses taking guests to and from the main gates! Lots of buses meant we didn’t have to wait at all in either direction.
The food center known as Gourmet Alley is in the middle of the whole event. Leading up to and around it are multiple other food vendors, and we were so thrilled to see more than garlic fries and garlic ice cream! The first stand we saw with garlic food was Olde Tyme Kettle Korn, all the way from Pennsylvania. They created a garlic popcorn that was sweet with a strong garlic flavor, fresh, perfectly popped, and didn’t get any of those hard bits stuck in our teeth.
Jeepney Guy from Santa Clara is working up to a Filipino-inspired food truck, so catering in general is the focus for now. By attending events such as this one, they get great practice for the street food demand! The Karubi pork short ribs are smoked for five hours, and we guess that the eight in the smoker pictured above got eaten pretty quickly.
We tried the Karubi pork in the Flip-Dip adobo sandwich, with a side of atchara. The pork was so smoky, juicy, and tender, we couldn’t hold ourselves back from eating the whole thing, even knowing that we had much more food to get to. It was served on a soft telera roll (kind of like ciabatta) spread with garlic aioli, and the savory adobo dipping sauce complemented the sweet garlic very well. Atchara is a condiment in the Philippines, made of pickled unripe papaya, carrots, red bell peppers, garlic, sweetened rice wine vinegar, and lime zest. It was like a refreshing salad with a bit of spice, but the pickle flavor prevailed.
You can purchase a ticket that includes a plate to sample four items from Gourmet Alley. There are two combo plates to choose from, so naturally we got in different line so that we could get a bite of everything. Combo Plate #1 has half of a pepper steak sandwich, calamari, pasta con pesto, and garlic bread. The pepper and onions in the sandwich were well cooked, matching the tender beef with a good amount of garlic. The calamari had a basic red sauce, perfect for the garlic bread. The pasta con pesto was super garlicky with mild basil on al dente noodles.
Combo Plate #2 offers half of a garlic sausage sandwich, scampi, marinated mushrooms, and more garlic bread. The sandwich had crunchy peppers and onions with a very strong-tasting sausage. The scampi had tender, sweet, and succulent shrimp in an extremely garlicky and savory buttery sauce. The mushrooms could have used a bit more salt, but otherwise the spices were good.
If you visit Gourmet Alley, be aware that most of the festival is run by 4,000 volunteers, so quality control might be a little spotty. Forgive the hard workers burning up in their makeshift kitchens for the occasional raw garlic or undercooked/overcooked meat.
Two of the three of us liked this dessert from Salinas’ Works of Wonder. A tender butter waffle was made with garlic, then covered with a sweet pineapple compote and rich whipped cream. What makes this work is that the garlic is completely cooked, turning it sweet. The pineapple is tangy while the garlic is earthy, but both are sweet and strangely, they worked together.
From Orange County came The Bamboo Hut with their impressive garlic egg roll. A crunchy wrapper was folded around fresh vegetables with an extreme garlic flavor. The garlic was so strong, we could taste it before biting into the crisp vegetables through the wrapper. When we told them we’d be taking pictures for Seasoning And Salt, they graciously gave us a second one, which was devoured almost instantly.
It’s a Melone Family tradition to come to the Gilroy Garlic Festival as themselves, not as a business. We thought it was endearing to see a family working together in this context – doing it just to do it for fun. We tried their garlic onion rings, which were admittedly prepared from a frozen state, but fried just right. The garlic was fresh, but it was the dip that caught us off guard because it wasn’t plain mayonnaise but garlic mayo. Its flavor was very rich and brought a creaminess to the crisp rings. This was a simple item, but very good.
Castro’s BBQ Shack and Filipino Food from Manteca added heaps of caramelized garlic on top of their traditional pansit of sweet and savory noodles. We recommend that you squeeze on the lime juice to add some zing to the exceptionally fresh, crisp vegetables.
Hercules, the town represented at the festival that is most local to us, is the home of the Powder Keg. When possible, they use organically grown herbs and vegetables in collaboration with the Hercules Community Garden, and it would be nice to think that we tasted some of those herbs in this half-pound of mussels. Sauteed well, the mussels were tender and meaty, enhanced by the garlic sauce.
California Lavash, local to Gilroy, makes flatbreads like lavash, naan, noor, and sangak. Today they turned some into pizzas, and we tried the vegetarian version. Artichoke hearts, mild feta and mozzarella cheeses, spinach, garlic, and tomato sauce were layered for a delicate and savory pizza.
During the last 35 years of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, over $9 million has been donated to various charities. This year, proceeds of the garlic fries go to YoungLife.
In reality this is soft-serve, not ice cream, but it’s still delicious. Over 100,000 people from all over the world come to Gilroy for this one weekend a year, and the garlic ice cream is one of the main attractions. Smooth, creamy, and sweet with natural garlic flavor, very few people dislike this confection.
We met Alex, proprietor of The Garlic Shoppe and Rapazzini Winery. From the Garlic Shoppe stand Zach picked out a garlic hot sauce, a garlic lollipop, and garlic chocolate. We haven’t tried the hot sauce yet and we’ll probably save it for a product review, but we have to chuckle about the last item in particular. There are only two food groups in the world: foods enhanced by garlic, and foods enhanced by chocolate. This was the first time we saw them together, so we couldn’t pass by without snatching it.
Alex offered to let us sample the garlic wine from his winery. That is not a typo, garlic wine. There is cooking garlic wine, both red and white, and that we totally understand for a sumptuous saute. What puzzled us, but ended up pleasing us, was the drinking garlic wine, also in red and white. We tried both the red and white drinking garlic wines, and they had a distinctly green, raw garlic smell. That smell, though, was more intense than the flavor. It was more mild in the mouth, with the white wine being particularly tart and refreshing.
Don’t be alarmed by the dozens of CHP cars waiting on the side of the road as you drive up to the festival. Four thousand volunteers do a lot behind the scenes, but of course we always need security to be present and visible. The mounted officers were happy to pose for us with their beautiful steeds.
Sweet Delights of Stockton had a broad menu, and the potato chips were the most different from what we had already seen. Thinly sliced, the chips were very crunchy and made in the kettle style with the skin still intact. A bonus is that you get a huge helping, so this satisfies lots of people.
Walking by Sandi’s Shaved Ice, we jokingly lamented that there wasn’t any garlic shaved ice. Then August looked up at the menu and saw that garlic was an option! With the sweetness of roasted, caramelized garlic plus sugar, this was a shockingly tasty treat.
With four stages well spaced from one another, music was constantly playing while not clashing with each other. In the evening we strolled by Steel Horse, motivating the crowd to rock out to Bon Jovi covers.
We couldn’t leave without garlic souvenirs. After sampling a few jerkies from The Jerky Hut, aka Papa Dan’s (two branches of the same company), we picked two to take home. The garlic jerky’s recipe was developed by co-owner Tracy, and it is impressive. The texture was ideal, and the flavor was deep. We plan on doing a product review of the second jerky, and in the meantime if you’d like to order your own from the Jerky Hut, try the promotional code JERKY1 for a surprise!
The bulb on the left is what you’d find at your typical grocery store. The bulb on the right is just daunting. If you were to pick only one item to bring home, grab an elephant garlic bulb.
One bulb isn’t enough for our household. Lane Enterprises of Bakersfield brought all kinds of braids, and while three feet might have been too much, a large braid (furthest to the left) should cover us for six to eight months. Stored properly, these braids will last up to a year, so every time you cook with this garlic you can bring your senses back to the festival.
After our experiences today, we will never speak ill of the Gilroy Garlic Festival again. That last time must have been on a full moon or something, because today was vastly different from what we went through three years ago. This time we were impressed by the thoughtful amenities like parking transportation, dozens of hand-washing stations, and free cups of water by the exits. Even more amazing was the garlic, the mere fact that there was such an abundance of it! There were many garlic items that we saw but didn’t try, like garlic corn, garlic steak tacos, and garlic hamburgers and other sandwiches, and six varieties of garlic ice cream. Three people can only try so much food, so we had to pick and choose what we thought you’d like to read about the most. Of course there were plenty of non-garlic foods, but why come if that’s all you’re looking for? No vampires will approach the guests of the festival for months, and that’s the way we like it.
The foundation of all Western rice-based entrees, paella is Spain’s crown dish. Regional varieties offer some with all seafood, some with surf and sky, some even with rabbit. But the three things that unite all paellas are saffron, fresh ingredients (from sources as local as possible, preferably), and an open flame. Cooking on a stove top instead of in the oven results in the desired texture of rice with just slightest bit of firmness.
48 oz. of organic chicken broth
3 cups of arborio rice
3 cups of water
3 bone-in chicken thighs (pull the skin off yourself; you want them skinless, but save the money)
1 lb. of large, cleaned, peeled, raw prawns
18 farm-raised black mussels
12 farm-raised little neck clams
1 1/2 cups of white wine
12 oz. of frozen peas
12 oz. of kielbasa
5 organic carrots
5 stalks of organic celery
1 large onion
1 large red bell pepper
6 whole garlic cloves
4 tbs. of extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs. of saffron threads in 1 cup of warm water, having soaked for at least 3 minutes
2 tsp. of kosher salt
1/2 tsp. of cracked black pepper
Roughly chop the carrots and celery. Peel and halve the onion. Cut one of the onion halves in half again, and put this with the carrots, celery, and garlic cloves in a large stock pot with 2 tbs. of olive oil over medium heat. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to caramelize.
Deglaze the stock pot with the wine. Add the chicken stock, saffron, saffron water, and 3 cups of water, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low and let simmer for no more than 30 minutes; too much time can cause the vegetables to make the stock bitter. Strain the vegetables when done and discard the solids, leaving just the liquid.
In a large paella pan, heat the remaining 2 tbs. of olive oil on medium heat. Put the bone-in, skinless chicken thighs on the surface and begin to lightly brown the meat, about 5 minutes on each side. In the meantime, remove the seeds of the bell pepper, then evenly dice the pepper and the remaining onion.
Move the chicken to the side of the pan, and add the bell pepper and onion. Cook for about 7-8 minutes until the onion is translucent and the pepper softened, but you don’t want to brown these yet – if you see them starting to brown, reduce the heat.
Cut the kielbasa in 1″ chunks, and add to the paella pan. Let cook for an additional 4 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the pan so that it is easier to stir in the rice. It is essential that the rice grains all have the chance to be evenly coated by the pan oils, and ingredients need to be evenly mixed. Nestle and somewhat submerge the chicken back into the rice, evenly spaced, after the rice has been sufficiently coated.
Pour in 2 1/2 to 3 cups of the stock. Bring back to a simmer, still on medium heat, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the rice is about three-quarters of the way cooked. Keep adding stock through those 15 minutes, with 1/2 to 1 cup at a time to maintain the rice continuously submerged.
When the rice hits the three-quarter mark, add the frozen peas. Also add the seafood, slightly nestling it similar to how you placed the chicken. Whatever stock remains, add that as well. Cover the pan with foil (it may require a few pieces to span the width). Let sit for 10 minutes more, then remove from heat and let sit for an additional 5 minutes, still with the foil cover.
Peel away the foil and serve immediately.
Zach’s present to August for Valentine’s Day this year was a day of flavors. It began with home made cinnamon rolls, and ended with a variety of light yet rich seafood.
In California, it is nearly impossible to find raw Alaskan king crab. It comes precooked and flash frozen.
To prepare: thaw overnight in the refrigerator in a sealed container (or something covered with plastic wrap), but put a rack on the bottom of the container so that the crab doesn’t sit in its own juice and melted ice water sludge. When ready to serve, cut the shell with small cooking scissors and carefully peel away. Remove the tendons by gently pulling the shell around the joint areas. Serve with half a lemon; other options are garlic butter and caper aioli if you want something richer.
(A future post will be a detailed how-to on removing the shell of a crab.)
The mussels weren’t alive when eaten. However, they must be kept alive right up until the point of preparation. Before any cooking there are some cleaning procedures:
Discard of any cracked or unusually heavy mussels, as these may be too full of sand and will be too difficult to clean.
Soak mussels in a bowl with water and 1 tbs. of salt for 20 minutes, and as they breathe they naturally filter the fresh water through their systems so as to expel debris.
Remove the byssal thread from each mussel. Grasping the shell firmly with a towel, yank the thread sharply towards the shell’s hinge. If you yank towards the shell’s opening, you might kill the mussel. Discard the threads and put the mussels in a separate bowl.
Add cold water to this new bowl, and let the mussels soak for another 10 minutes. Then brush each mussel to clean off any remaining debris. Rinse off with cool water and dry with a towel.
3 dozen mussels
1/2 cup of white wine
1/4 cup of fine chopped garlic
1/4 cup of butter
Chopped flat leaf parsley to garnish
Pepper to taste
In an extra large saute pan, melt the butter on medium-high heat. Add the garlic and pepper and cook for about 2 minutes until the garlic is very lightly browned. Add mussels, but make sure the pan is large enough for the mussels to take up a single layer and not be on top of each other; the mussels on the bottom might not pop open if there are mussels on top to weigh them down. Add the white wine and cover with a lid for 4 minutes to steam the mussels. Remove mussels from pan, put in a bowl, and pour remaining butter-garlic-wine juice over the mussels. Garnish with parsley.
Fresh Atlantic salmon is fairly abundant. It’s always best to buy fresh fish if you can, and a thick filet will surely impress your better half for a Valentinian meal. Try to get deboned salmon because it’s too much work as a preparer or an eater. We got ours with the skin on – this is better for thicker filets during the cooking process.
2 salmon filets, about 1″ thick
1 tbs. of butter
1 tsp. of dried dill
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh lemon to squeeze
Heat a large saute pan and melt the butter over medium heat. Salt and pepper both sides of the filets and sprinkle dill on the skinless side.
Place both filets in the pan skin-side down, with about 15 seconds in between each so that you don’t cool down the pan too quickly. Cook for 6-7 minutes on the skin side before flipping over; cook for an additional 4 minutes with the skin facing up. Remove from heat, squeeze fresh lemon juice over the filets, and serve immediately.