Garlic scapes are packed with flavor. Unlike the garlic bulb, they have a grassier flavor with an asparagus-like texture that makes them stand out compared to other greens. If you’ve never tried them before, you’ll love this sautéed garlic scape recipe that show cases this uncommon vegetable.
An often overlooked part of the garlic plant, garlic scapes are a hard-to-find delicacy. I first tried garlic scapes when my mum stir fried them with smoked pork belly and red Thai chilis. It was a spicy burst of garlic flavor in every bite.
When my friend Dominick and fellow Garlic Delight reader gifted me a bag of garlic scapes that he personally planted on his family farm in Pennsylvania, I decided to recreate this stir-fried garlic scapes dish.
To make the stir fry more approachable, I tweaked my mum’s recipe to sauté the scapes. Instead of Chinese smoked pork belly, I replaced it with bacon. Instead of spicy red Thai chilis, I used shallots to add sweetness.
Let’s learn more about garlic scapes and how you can make this delicious sauté recipe (with vegan substitutions).
What are garlic scapes?
A scape is the spindly shoot that grows out of hardneck garlic (softneck garlic doesn’t grow a scape, which is why you can braid them). If left to grow, a scape develops flowers at the tip.
Most farmers cut the scapes before the garlic plants can flower. This allows the plant’s energy to concentrate on growing a larger head. The byproduct of pruning garlic plants is delicious scapes.
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Where to buy garlic scapes
Garlic scapes are hard to find because they’re seasonal, and few groceries sell them. They’re ready around early summer and must be cut before they flower, which leaves a tight window of several weeks each year when they’re available.
NOTE: Dominick emailed me a few weeks before he cut the scapes off his garlic plants and offered to mail some to me. He sells garlic scapes and bulbs that he grows on his homestead farm every year through his store, Wildness Mountain Garlic.
My mum buys garlic scapes from the Chinese supermarket. You can likely find it at the farmers market around the late June to early July time frame.
TIP: If all else fails, here are more ideas on finding hardneck garlic. The sellers who sell hardneck garlic usually offer garlic scapes since scapes are a natural byproduct of growing hardneck garlic.
How to store garlic scapes
I recommend storing garlic scapes the same way you would store green onions. That means putting the scapes in an open plastic bag to store them for a few days.
TIP: If you don’t plan to use them for a week or two, wrap them in a damp paper towel and stash them in an open plastic bag to prevent them from drying out.
They freeze well just like green onions. Keep in mind, the texture will change after defrosting. This means it’s better to use them for grilling or turning into pesto if you’re going to freeze them as they may no longer have a firm texture when you defrost.
How to cut garlic scapes
The main challenge of chopping garlic scapes is wrangling these serpentine sprouts. Here’s how we did it:
- Hold the scapes in your hand.
- Pull the pointy ends (the opposite ends to where the scapes were cut) towards each other. You’re going to cut the pointy ends off because they will poke you when you eat them. Try to pull the pointy ends so they meet but don’t sweat it if it’s too difficult to do perfectly.
- Lay the scapes on a cutting board.
- Cut off about 4 inches/10 cm of the pointy ends. You’re aiming to cut off the sharp, flexible tips that look like chives. Cut the scapes up to where they turn into a round, stiffer (sometimes curly) shoot.
- Once the tips are gone, cut the scape into 2 inch/5 cm pieces. The easiest way is to start chopping from the end that you just cut off because the scapes will be aligned.
- You can “fold” the scapes to make a U shape to cut both ends at the same time. You’ll end up with uneven lengths at the ends but that’s OK. Check out the recipe instructions for a photo on how Alex cut the scapes.
How do you know when the scapes are cooked?
Similar to asparagus, the longer you sauté the scapes, the softer they get. If you prefer them firmer with a toothy texture, you can sauté them for no more than 5 minutes. If you like them softer, you can sauté them for a few more minutes.
My preferred texture is firm without tasting raw, much like stir-fried green beans. I sauté the scapes until they have blistered skins and remove them from the heat before they turn brown. Since I’m using a heavy-bottomed frying pan, I know they will continue cooking with residual heat.
If you’re grilling scapes, they’re ready once they have softened and have puckered skins. They may take longer than 5 minutes to cook depending on the heat setting on your grill.
How to substitute ingredients
I understand this recipe as written isn’t for everybody. If you have dietary restrictions, read on for ideas on how you can tweak this recipe to meet your needs.
Make this recipe vegan by replacing the bacon with shiitake mushrooms for the meaty texture and umami taste. If you like the smoky flavor bacon offers but don’t eat meat, you can replace the bacon with a smoked and flavored seitan or smoked tofu.
Substitute shallots with chopped bulb onions, especially sweeter varieties. You can also skip the shallots and rely on the garlic scapes for flavor.
Substitute olive oil with a neutral oil, like canola oil or vegetable oil, if you want the garlic flavors to come through unmasked. Alternatively, substitute the olive oil with a strongly flavored oil, like butter or add 1/2 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil at the end, if you like those flavors and don’t mind them potentially overpowering the scapes.
If you want the original version my mum makes, replace the bacon with Chinese smoked pork belly. You can find it in the Asian grocery store. Slice it thinly. Add 1-2 small red Thai chilis. If you want it extra spicy, you can thinly slice the chilis and keep all the seeds. If you’re worried about the spice (that’s wise), add 1 chili and slice it in half.
Tips for success
- Keep it simple: If you prefer the scapes plain, follow the recipe using canola oil instead of olive oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the scapes after you add them to the pan. Cook and enjoy immediately.
- How to scale the recipe: The recipe can be doubled or tripled easily. Just make sure you’re not overcrowding the pan to avoid patches of uneven cooking.
- Render the bacon but don’t overcook it: When you first add the bacon to the frying pan, your goal is to render the fat without overcooking the bacon. Because the bacon continues cooking after you add the scapes, keep turning the scapes (which is the point of the sauté technique) to avoid burning the bacon.
- Add water: If after 5 minutes you notice the scapes are burning on one side and the skin is still not puckering on the other side, it could be that your heat is too high. The easiest way to save the dish is to add 1 tablespoon of water and cover the frying pan with a lid. Repeat if necessary. Allow the scapes to steam for 2-3 minutes. Remove the lid and continue sautéing until they look done.
Sautéed Garlic Scapes with Bacon and Shallots
- Chopping Board
- Frying Pan
- 1 pound (454 g) garlic scapes
- 1 small (1 small) Shallot
- 2 slices (2 slices) Bacon
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) Olive oil
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt
- ½ teaspoon (2 g) Black pepper
- Gather the ingredients.
- Cut the scapes into 2-inch/5 cm segments. You'll have odds and ends that are shorter or longer, which is OK.
- Mince the shallots into a medium dice. Slice the bacon into half-inch/1 cm pieces.
- Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the minced shallots.
- Add the sliced bacon. Render the bacon fat for 1-2 minutes. The minced shallots should begin to sizzle and brown. Keep tossing the shallots and bacon to avoid burning them.
- Add the chopped garlic scapes. Sauté the garlic scapes in the bacon fat and olive oil until the skin of the scapes starts to pucker, about 3 minutes.
- Once the skin on the scapes looks wrinkled and the bacon is brown, turn off the heat. Plate the garlic scapes and eat immediately.
- Enjoy your sautéed garlic scapes!
Can you make this in advance?
Yes. While the sautéed scapes taste best fresh, you can make this dish in advance.
How to store leftovers
Put the leftovers in an airtight container and store it in the fridge. Ideally, you should eat the leftovers within 3 days. Reheat it in the microwave.
Can you freeze it?
Yes, but the texture will change once you defrost the dish. Freeze it in an airtight plastic container once the dish has cooled. Eat it within 3 months to avoid freezer burn. Another option is to freeze the fresh scapes before cooking them.
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