Ginger - The Essential Flavors of Asian Cuisine

Ginger - The Essential Flavors of Asian Cuisine

This tropical rhizome (an underground stem) is one of the essential flavors of Asian cuisine. Its pleasantly pungent flavor comes from naturally occurring chemical irritants that also create a warm sensation on the tongue.

To choose fresh ginger - choose the hardest, smoothest pieces you can find. The longer ginger sits around, the more wrinkled it gets. Avoid any pieces that show signs of mold. To test for freshness, break off one of the knobs. If the ginger is fresh, it will break with a clean snap.

To store fresh ginger - keep it at room temperature for up to a week, or wrap it in a paper towel, seal it in a plastic bag, and refrigerate for 2 to 3 weeks. Or, keep unpeeled ginger in a pot or container of horticultural sand. Cover with well pierced foil to provide ventilation, and store in a cool, dark place.

To freeze ginger - place whole, unpeeled knobs of ginger in a zipper-lock freezer bag for up to 3 months. Slice or break off what you need and return the rest to the freezer. Freezing ruptures its cells and changes its texture, but the flavor remains intact. Avoid freezing fresh ginger after it is peeled and chopped.

Storing in a liquid - peel pieces or slices of ginger, place them in a glass jar, and fill with dry sherry or vodka. Secure the lid and refrigerate for 4 to 6 weeks. The sherry (or vodka) and ginger will exchange flavors during storage. You can use ginger-kissed sherry in stir-fry sauces or marinades.

To juice ginger - when you want the pure essence of ginger without the fibers, make ginger juice. A tablespoon or two is great in sauces or marinades for chicken breast strips or shrimp. The easiest method is to keep a chunk of ginger in the freezer. When you're ready to use it, thaw it, then press out the juices with a garlic press. You can also peel fresh ginger, cut it into chunks, and shred it on a cheese grater or puree it in a food processor. Then, wrap the shredded or pureed ginger in a piece of cheesecloth and squeeze out the juice.

Using ground ginger - Avoid using ground ginger to replace fresh ginger. It's made from the same rhizome as fresh ginger, but it has a very different flavor. Ground ginger works best in gingerbread, pumpkin pie, and other baked goods, as well as in curries with other Indian spices.

Using candied ginger - crystallized, or candied ginger is usually made from slices of fresh ginger that have been softened in a sugar syrup and coated with crystallized sugar. Store it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Chop or snip with scissors and add freely to cookie dough, muffins, scones or ice cream. Crystallized ginger also makes an elegant addition to glazes for roasted poultry or braised root vegetables.

To avoid problems with using ginger and gelatin - Heat ginger before adding it to a gelatin mixture. Ginger contains an enzyme that prevents gelatin from setting properly. Heat destroys the enzyme. The microwave oven makes this a quick fix. Heat the ginger on medium power until heated through, which is about 20 seconds.

To chop candied ginger without sticking - chop in a mini food processor with a bit of granulated sugar. Or if chopping small amounts with a knife, spray the knife blade with cooking spray or dip the blade into flour. You can also use scissors. Or, for convenience, you may want to keep pre-chopped crystallized ginger on hand in a tightly sealed jar at room temperature.

To peel quickly - scrape the skin with the side of a teaspoon, following the curves and bumps of the root. you can also use a vegetable peeler, but it tends to take a bit of flesh with it. The flesh just beneath the skin layer is often the most flavorful.

To quickly chop or mince - for large amounts, cut into 1/2" chunks. Place in a mini food processor and mince in 2 to 3 second pulses to desired fineness. For small amounts, cut into small chunks and place in a good-quality garlic press. Press over a small bowl or directly into the food. This will yield mostly ginger juice, so scrape off the garlic press to get the flesh as well.

Grating ginger - it is much easier and faster than mincing it. Simply peel away the skin from one of the knobs, hold the entire unpeeled root with your free hand, and grate the peeled section on a cheese grater or rasp. If you're frustrated by the tiny fibers of fresh ginger that can clog graters and rasps, look for a special ginger grater at an Asian market, made from strips of bamboo or a solid porcelain plate. Ginger graters have a small teeth that crush the flesh of the ginger but leave the hairs attached to the stub of un-grated ginger.

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