One of the most delicious scenes in film occurs in "Goodfellas," when Paulie Cicero, the mob boss played by Paul Sorvino, is shown slicing cloves of garlic into transparent planes so thin they "liquefy in the pan." Paulie achieves this technique painstakingly, hunched over the garlic with a razor blade. He's also serving time in a federal prison. The message is clear: When you've got all the time in the world to prepare a meal, you spend the bulk of it on the garlic.
Unless the feds ever get wise to the Wite-Out on line 23c of my just-filed 1040, I don't think I'll ever have Paulie's kind of time to prepare my garlic. But not long ago, after testing out a variety of implements to get my garlic just right -- I can't remember now what inspired me; call it a food obsessive's fugue -- I came upon a tool that easily achieves garlic Zen. If the Susi Deluxe garlic press, manufactured by the Swiss company Zyliss, hasn't exactly changed my life, it has changed my meals.
You wouldn't guess by looking at it that the Susi could spark a garlic revolution; it appears no different from any old garlic press -- a silver 6-inch hinged doodad with two handles and a diminutive chamber. But pick it up and you feel the difference. This crusher's got some heft, and the weight balances pleasingly across the horizontal axis. In your hand the device feels precisely engineered, echoing the fussy quality we've come to expect of the Swiss in their chocolates, watches and the guards they send to protect the pope.
What you want from your garlic depends on what you're cooking, of course. There are plenty of foods for which whole cloves, or cloves roughly smashed with the flat end of a chef's knife, are good enough. But in much of what I cook -- curries, sauces, soups, marinades, just about anything that garlic enhances, which is just about everything -- I want my garlic to resemble Paulie's: I want it annihilated, pulverized, nearly atomized, so that when the tiny nibs hit the heat they explode into flavor, and then disappear. This is where the Susi comes in. You place a clove in its chamber and, if you're kind, you read it its last rites. Then, with not a bit more force than you'd use to squeeze a lemon, you press down on the handle, and you feel the garlic succumb. What emerges from the crusher can't really be called crushed garlic; it's more like oozed garlic, an indeterminate physical state between solid and liquid, with bits of garlic so small you wonder if, on the molecular level, they can still be called garlic. The scent of this mush is overpowering yet irresistible, spicy, musty, the natural perfume of a well-used kitchen.
A note on cleaning: However you slice it, garlic is a messy business, and the Susi won't keep you free from garlic fingers. But the Susi's chamber is nonstick, and it comes with a handy cleaning tool to degarlic the press's perforations, so cleaning only involves 30 seconds under the faucet. But here's the best part: The Susi packs so much force that it can easily crush unpeeled garlic, meaning you don't need to get your hands greasy while taking apart a clove. This, I would say, is its biggest selling point. That and for less than $15, you're eating garlic like a wise guy.
We want to hear about the trinkets, devices, conveniences and extravagances that have you smitten. (Please remember: Any writing submitted becomes the property of Salon if we publish it. We reserve the right to edit submissions, and cannot reply to every writer.)