I am trying to cook some Indian food and the recipes call for frying mashed garlic and ginger.

I find that they turn bitter quite quickly if over-fried. What is the proper way to do that?

  • a quick fry and then more wet ingredients added?
  • or a longer fry, but at a lower temperature?

When cooking garlic in other recipes I tend to add it late in the process (when onions are halfway done for instance) to slowly confit it (more or less)

  • I've asked for this question to be reopened as I believe the thread that's linked to, does not actually address your question. I believe I can answer your question though but I could shorten my answer by asking a few questions first. Do you have the same issue when cooking non-Indian dishes that are cooked in a similar way? Is there a pattern to when it happens with a given recipe or when it doesn't? Such as when the recipe calls for the paste to be added. Commented May 20 at 22:45
  • There's definitely a lot of overlap between this question and the other, but I'd say that there's value in having a direct "what is generally the right way" (in an Indian dish, with wet ingredients after the ginger-garlic paste) answer to the question.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Jun 13 at 0:03

1 Answer 1


The key element is that they fry nicely, then at a point (a QUICK point), they go from great to swiftly becoming burnt and bitter.

If left alone to their own devices that is.

One wants to fry them until they seem perfect, as in usually till they begin releasing their characteristic scents, then immediately (IMMEDIATELY) lower the heat IN and applied TO them.

Like in firefighting. Remove the heat and the fire is over. Just lifting from the heat will not do this as they have plenty of heat left to carry them to bitterness.

Adding liquid... water, broth/stock, wet ingredients that are shedding their liquid or releasing it quickly (tomatoes, say)... That liquid swiftly lowers the temperature of the garlic/ginger to a point where they are no longer frying, as in no longer at the temperatures that will lead to the formation of the compounds that cause bitterness, or ruination of desirable taste compounds.

You must add a liquid, even if removing them from the flame/burner to add back in later or use for some other purpose. Nothing else will lower their temperature quickly enough.

Adding them after onions have cooked for a time really only works if done before much liquid is released so they actually CAN fry to the desired point, but in time for the onions to be releasing much more liquid at about the time they reach that point. Tricky, as evidenced by how much that doesn't work incredibly well.

Failing to add liquid, or wet ingredients, as in doing the garlic/ginger, then adding onions, can work of one adds a LOT of onion, so the heat can be quickly taken away, but that will still depend upon some amount of moisture release helping draw off the garlic/ginger's internal heat by contact, and quickly.

I shudder when I see a recipe like one my wife just brought home from her cooking club in which one heats the garlic to fragrance, then adds the ginger and does the same. Garlic's burned and bitter, to at least some degree before coming close. But you see it all the time. That said, there is truly a ton of variation in all these things, some onions for instance release liquid more quickly, and some just more than others in a general sense. Same for garlic and ginger, and maybe it worked for the person designing the recipe.

And might work for you. But you seem to be running into a lot more "not so" than "so" and that means the ingredients sourced in your usual manner need to be "honored"... as in, they are showing general characteristics and it is very unlikely your store/s are going to change their sources soon, so unlikely your ingredients will suddenly exhibit noticeable different characteristics. So if you observe they burn quickly, use liquid as described already. Right when they become fragrant. If need be, commit the most horrible sin possible and do them in separate pans, then combine with liquid coming into play right then. (Oh my Becky, that means washing a second pan!)

This is different than toasting nuts, say. There the time from "just right" to "you burned them again?" is relativewly long and they can air cool with no ill effects. Frying is much more intense than an oven, and the material in question is not 4 oz. of nuts but rather teensy little individual bits or smears of material that is by nature pretty volatile. You have a small window and must immediately change their condition from "very intensely hot" to "mildy hot" or see them continue to evolve from wonderful taste elements to firewood/charcoal.

Liquid. In truth, firemen use it on almost anything because heat removal is so incredibly important. Yes, they will wait to remove electrical power, or bath gasoline, say, in foam, but as soon as possible, they hit both with water to cool them. Same thing here. They change state very quickly once at the right place, so you can either let them keep on to the charcoal stage, very quickly after, or act very quickly with liquid.

As chef Jean-Pierre says, "... if you liked burned garlic, don' (sic) worry about it... but I don't like burned garlic so ..."

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