The Cracks of Toum*

So, if you’re lucky enough to live near a Zankou Chicken, you know the addictive fluffy, white, garlic… stuff that’s sort of like a garlic butter, but not, and so damn good. I found out that stuff is called “toum” and is a Lebanese garlic sauce.

There are several recipes out there in the wilds of the Internet, but searching for it you’ll mostly find “why won’t my toum come together?” I’m not an expert, but I finally got mine to work, so here’s what I found.

Toum is an emulsion – two liquids that are immiscible (can’t be mixed e.g. oil and water) held together by a third ingredient. Very generally, you get tiny droplets of one liquid surrounded by the emulsifying agent (surfactant) suspended in the second liquid. In toum, you take garlic and blend it with a lot of oil (1:4 volume ratio, about). I’m not sure what the surfactant is, but when I tried it, I got a lot of stirred up garlic in oil that settled out to be oil on top of garlic.

I left the result in the fridge and tried again a week or so later. I used an immersion blender the first time (Cuisinart Smart Stick), and it got really hot before anything happened. The second time ’round, I took my Mistake and poured off the oil on top. Instead of using the stick, I transferred the garlic into the food processor bowl attachment, and it made a world of difference. Just blending the oily garlic, I got the toum started. I had tried to use a shortcut with some pre-minced garlic, and I think that was a mistake because the extra added water probably interfered with the emulsion. The garlic can’t be minced, it needs to be paste. You know how clove garlic can feel sticky when you cut into it? I think that might be the surfactant action going on.

Once I got that settled, it was just a matter of slowly adding the oil, blending it, and adding a little more at a time. I’ve seen mixed reactions with the oil having been chilled, some insisting on it and some saying it is a problem. Seemed to work fine for me. Not that it mattered, but I used grapeseed oil, which is my favorite non-flavored veggie oil because of its high smoke point and my sensitivity to the sunflower family of plants.

To sum, if you ever try toum at home (and you should**, it’s sweet and delicious and you can use it like mayo on a sandwich) use fresh, clove garlic, blend it to a paste, and chill your oil. Hopefully, you can avoid my faux pas and get yourself some wonderful garlic sauce.
*Ralph Bakshi LotR going through my head. See? SOMEthing to do with animation!
**Given that you like garlic. Vampires need not apply.

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