Confit Garlic Knots with Chili-Lemon Crema

Back in the tail end of 2017, a freshly-minted 23-year Fred was forced to go to a department outing at his first job, on his birthday. Because his boss at the time decided it would be a great idea to plan a department outing on his birthday without telling him. So beyond the fact that I spent my 23rd-27th birthdays at work or work-related functions because…adulting, at that 23rd birthday, I got to have my first C&O garlic knot. C&O is a popular Italian trattoria in L.A., which is known for their generous portions, and even more generous(bottomless) servings of garlic knots. Even though I had to spend the night of my 23rd birthday at a work function, away from my friends and family, at least I got drown my frustrations and irritations away in bucketloads of garlic knots. Soft, pillowy dough that crisped on the outside, and just a touch chewy in the middle, they were pretty great. Made me almost forget the fact that I was sitting across from my then-assistant director at that time, who would normally spend the work day harassing me to do his job for him. Yes, as you can tell, I clearly LOVED my job back when I was 22/23. Kidding. But I did grow to love garlic knots from that experience, hence why I am revisiting making them after all of this time. For those unfamiliar with them, garlic knots are super soft pizza dough, baked into a knot or twist shape, tossed in an herb-studded garlicky butter. I personally don’t even eat that much garlic(I don’t like getting that dragon breath), but I still love the fragrance and the texture of that bread dough being baked in that shape!

For this recipe, I wanted to embrace my sister’s love of confit garlic, and use that for my interpretation on these iconic garlic knots. Garlic confit is when you take garlic and cook it low and slow in olive oil until it is creamy and soft. Fun fact, during Masterchef: Back to Win, whenever Bri or I were not sure of what to do, we would confit garlic and put it in our savory dishes, since it automatically makes 99% of savory food taste better. Hence the rationale behind using them in a recipe that already features garlic prominently! Since the garlic is cooked in oil, that oil then becomes perfumed with garlic flavor. My sister, Kim, loves using that oil, plus the confit garlic in mashed potatoes(which I highly recommend doing), but in this case, I am using the confit oil in the bread dough, to brush the bread dough with prior to baking in the oven, and tossing the baked off bread knots in that oil, chopped up herbs, and of course, the garlic confit. I went with an herb oil instead of the butter just to keep the knots vegan. The bread dough itself is a yeast based dough that uses that confit oil like I mentioned, but because I kept the ingredients similar to a pizza dough, it wound up being 100% vegan. To make sure that this recipe is anything but vegan(I am kidding), I am serving my knots with a preserved lemon and chili crema, just to add something sour and tangy to cut through some of the fattiness of the herb oil, and to add some fun contrast to something that is pretty darn tasty on its own. I find that using calabrian chilies plus preserved lemons adds the right combination of umami, tang, salt, and heat that really adds another punch to the knots. I would highly recommend serving these knots as a fun side with a steak, at a holiday dinner party, or at a company outing(to bring it all full-circle)! They will be an instant hit!

For the garlic confit:
1 head garlic, peeled
1/2 cup olive oil
a pinch of salt

In a pot, heat up garlic, olive oil, and salt over low heat for 50 minutes. You are not trying to bring the oil to a boil or trying to deep fry the garlic, simply stewing it in the oil until the garlic becomes soft and creamy-textured. Store in an airtight container at room temperature when not using, for up to three weeks.

For the dough:
1 packet instant-dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water, in two parts
1 tsp granulated sugar
3 tbsp garlic confit oil, plus more for baking
a pinch of salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

In a bowl, mix together the yeast, one part water, and sugar first. Allow that mixture to sit for 10 minutes at room temperature. In another pot, mix together 1/4 cup of your flour with the remaining water and garlic confit oil, and cook together on low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture forms a smooth paste. Allow your paste to cool down to just below 120 degrees F(it should just be barely warm to the touch), before attempting to use in your dough. Mix all of your ingredients together and knead the dough together until smooth and elastic. Allow the mixture to sit, covered, at room temperature for 1 hour. Then portion you dough out into 16 strips. Coil the strips into a ball and place onto a parchment-lined sheet tray. Brush the dough balls with more confit garlic oil. Bake at 350 degrees F for 17 minutes, then broil for 3 just to get the tops browned. While still warm, toss with the seasoned garlic confit oil and serve with the crema.

Alternatively, instead of using the garlic confit in the oil, you can also blend up the garlic confit into a paste, spread that onto the dough, then portion it out to make the knots with! With the remaining garlic confit oil, you can use that plus the dried herbs to toss the baked knots with!

For the seasoned garlic confit oil:
All of your confit garlic cloves, roughly chopped
a pinch of salt
dried oregano
dried thyme
Any reserved garlic confit oil+more olive oil to measure out to about 1/4 cup

In a pan, heat up your oil. Mix the chopped garlic confit with salt first, then saute it off in the oil, only turning back on the heat to low in case the oil solidifies – you want the oil to be fully liquid! Once the garlic begins to crisp around the edges, add in the herbs next, take the pan off heat again, and add in the remaining garlic confit oil. Keep the oil at room temperature for tossing the knots in.

For the crema:
1/2 cup Mexican crema
1 tsp Calabrian chilies
1oz preserved lemon(can sub with juice and zest of 1 lemon + 1 tbsp olive oil)
a pinch of salt

Puree everything together in a food processor until fully combined. Store in an airtight container, refrigerated, until time to serve.

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