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ingredients and techniques

All About Ginger

meg's picture

I love reading about what people keep in their fridges. An article promising to provide an itemized account of what Prince keeps in his refrigerator? You have my attention. I don't know why this fascinates me--it's a benign form of voyeurism, I suppose. A refrigerator is an intimate thing, holding in its chilly bowels the foodstuffs we have chosen to nourish us. And then there is the saga of the leftovers and the expired jars of this and that pushed to the back of the bottom shelf. I feel there are some grand metaphors to be had here, if only one had the time...

Our refrigerator is nothing special. Most of the time it is packed to the gills, owing to our job and the fact that we love vegetables (and cheese). The contents are ever-changing, but there are a few items we always have and that make it into much of our cooking. One of those mainstays is fresh ginger.

I'm sure that not so very long ago, fresh ginger was a luxury item. To some, it probably still seems quite exotic. For instance, I'm pretty sure my grandmother wouldn't get anywhere near the stuff. But fresh ginger has made its way into everything from cookies to juice, and deservedly so. This dense rhizome, while not much to look at (although I find its nubby, homely shape quite appealing), can hold its own when it comes to flavor.

Buying and Storing Ginger
When shopping for fresh ginger, choose firm, heavy roots with no soft spots. If you are very lucky, you may come across young ginger, which is smaller, has a tender skin, and is less fibrous, making it very good for pickling or candying. Store ginger in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.

Preparing Ginger For Cooking
To use ginger, the light brown skin is usually removed. This is easily done with a spoon. Simply scrape the edge of the spoon against the skin of the ginger, and it comes off quite nicely. You can also use a vegetable peeler or even cut away the skin with a knife, but a spoon is the preferred method as it can reach into the root's curves and contours better.

Most ginger you'll find in stores is fairly fibrous. To ward off getting a mouthful of stringy gingerroot, there are a couple of easy ways to prepare ginger for the pot. After peeling, cut the ginger into medallions, then matchsticks, then fine dice. By doing this, you are cutting the long fibers in the root against the grain, making the ginger much more palatable. Alternatively, you can grate fresh ginger on a rasp grater to get a very fine ginger paste.

Cooking With Ginger
When cooking with fresh ginger, there are a number of ways to incorporate it into a dish. For stir frys, I often fry ginger medallions or matchsticks in the hot oil before adding the vegetables. You can then remove the ginger or leave it in if you like. You can also grate the ginger into a paste before frying it in oil. This method is particularly nice if you like lots of spicy ginger flavor. By grating it, you increase its surface area, and its flavor will penetrate throughout the dish much better. It's also texturally nice because the ginger will be fully incorporated rather than remaining in large chunks or batons.

For dishes like miso soup, you may leave the ginger in medallions and remove them before serving.

When using fresh ginger in baking, you'll want to either mince it very finely or grate it. You may also use a spice grinder or food processor to grind it to a paste. Fresh ginger is excellent if you love a pronounced ginger flavor in things like gingersnaps or gingerbread (see David Lebovitz's Fresh Ginger Cake for a really delicious example of this). Fresh ginger is also wonderful alongside chocolate, so adding it to brownies or even chocolate chip cookies is a good thing.

If using ginger to make ice cream, do not heat ginger with dairy when making the base, as it will curdle. Either blanch the ginger and then make the base or make the base first, then stir in grated ginger. Do not use fresh ginger when making gelatin salads as enzymes in the ginger will prevent gelatin from setting.

You can also add fresh ginger to hot tea or blended juices. My favorite health food store where we used to live made a delicious drink that they called "Kale Lemonade." It included kale, apple, lemon, and ginger juices--the ginger added the perfect zing to it, and I have recreated my own version of this drink many times at home.

Other Forms of Ginger
Dried powdered ginger is perhaps the most commonly used form of ginger, at least in the US (i.e. My grandmother, for instance, will use powdered ginger, but not fresh). It is used mostly for baking and is less pungent than fresh ginger.

Candied ginger is also widely available. This is an excellent addition to baked goods when chopped finely. I love adding it to cookies and bars or just eating it on its own.

You may also be able to find dried ginger in chunks or ginger in syrup, both of which I have very little experience with, as I find fresh, dried, and candied ginger to be perfectly adequate for my cooking needs.

Other articles you might enjoy: Ginger Gems, Golden Cherry Tomato and Ginger Jam, Rose Hip Tea With Hibiscus and Ginger

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