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Chris, if I want a more subtle garlic flavor in a dish,
I slice the cloves as thin as possible and rather than sauté I add it with the meat (i.e. chicken, pork) as in Asian cooking, where the meats or marinated with soy, ginger, garlic and corn starch.
Is that what you're looking for, a less pungent flavor?
That's the technique I use too... I don't put the garlic in "early", I put it in the cold pan with cold oil and heat the whole thing very slowly. I also first smash the garlic cloves, then cut them in 5mm thick slices.
It works great for me!
Minced and added early, it tends to be not as strong a flavor in the final dish. The later you add it, the more pronounced it will be. Cook's Illustrated does this in their stir fries and also as a hedge against burning it when alone in the pan.
Of course, you can add more to increase the punch as well when added early.
If you're going to cook it a long time, use about 5x the amount of cloves and just slice them thinly. They'll be more resistant to burning, and hold up to the long cooking better. Of course, the texture of the slices needs to match whatever it is you're cooking so it's not always a workable technique.
Another thing to consider is that the more finely you break up the garlic, the more strength and heat the garlic flavor will have. So as you use larger pieces you need more of it to keep the same flavor strength. Such that if you make Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic where the cloves are just peeled and left whole, the garlic is not overwhelming.
What kinds of things are you trying to make? How garlicky do you want them to be? How much garlic are you using? If you're not getting the garlic flavor you want, maybe you just need to use more.
In most cooked dishes the garlic mellows as it cooks and blends with the other flavors in such a way that you probably wouldn't consider the dish "garlicky" but you also would definitely miss it if it were not there. Like onions. You don't want onion to be the dominant flavor in most dishes but you wouldn't do without them, either.
Lots of assertively garlicky dishes use raw garlic, either in the preparation (some Mediterranean salads, aioli, skordalia, some pasta sauces) or in a marinade.
Roast chicken and lamb (and probably other things) can be studded with slivers of garlic stuffed into knife slits stabbed into the meat.
My rule of thumb is the opposite: the longer the cooking time, the thicker I cut the slices (unless I don't want thick slices in the final dish of course).
To me, long cooking means big crashed cloves or even whole heads. Quick styr fry cooking (Chinese): sliced garlic or brunoise, it depends. Marinates: very thin brunoise garlic.
But if you really want to taste a garlic flavour, gently roast 1 or 2 whole heads of garlic and add that precious cream into your dish.
Theres also garlic fries, but that's another matter.