A few weeks ago I went to the supermarket to pick up some fresh ginger root for a cooking class I was teaching. I only needed a couple of tablespoons, so I broke off a small knob and proceeded to the cashier. She rang up my purchase and it came to a mere seventeen cents. Usually I purchase ginger in much larger quantities, and along with my regular groceries, so I have never really thought about how little it actually costs. Immediately I wondered why anyone would not use fresh ginger.
The fibrous root of the ginger plant is what we know as ginger available in the produce section of our local grocery store. This large knobby light skinned root is available is various sizes and shapes. When choosing ginger, make sure that it is firm, smooth, and free of blemishes and/or mold. Most people always have powdered ginger in their selection of spices and herbs, but fresh will provide a much more pure flavour. The only application I find powdered ginger preferable in is creating a dry spice mix to use as a meat or seafood rub.
Due to the pungency or “hotness” of fresh ginger, many people are selective about eating it and opt to use powdered forms for less intensity, or use no ginger at all. It is to these people however, that I suggest using fresh but in small quantities. One will notice that recipes will offer a fresher, more aromatic, ambience about them. A classic example of this is gingerbread. Many people, still to this day, will make gingerbread with powdered ginger. Using freshly grated ginger however, will bring your recipe to new heights by offering an abundance of character to the flavour of the cookies or cake form of this classic holiday treat. Just practice “moderation” if the thought of the pungent taste in your recipe scares you.
The easiest way to peel ginger is to simply scrape off the skin with the edge of a teaspoon, and then cut off the exposed root for further cutting as an ingredient. It is fibrous so it is almost always recommended to be chopped or grated, but it can be added in larger pieces to stir-fries or other dishes if desired, as the cooking process will help to diminish its toughness. It can be stored in the whole form in the refrigerator for two to three weeks or kept frozen for many months.
Ginger is used in many applications. Not only can it be purchased fresh and in powdered form, but also preserved, candied, pickled, and crystallized. It is also believed to have many medicinal properties and used to reduce fever, suppress appetite, stimulate digestion, and be effective for combating colds, coughs and motion sickness.
To make fresh ginger tea, boil 1 cup of water for few minutes with approximately one teaspoon of freshly chopped ginger and sweeten if desired. If you dislike the ginger particles floating in your tea, then place the chopped ginger in a metal tea ball or an empty disposable tea bag.
Dear Chef Dez:
A lady ahead of me at a check-out bought a big bag of fresh ginger, because it was on sale. She told me when I enquired, that she just throws them in the freezer & takes some out when needed. Do you recommend this & will they lose their goodness or flavour from being frozen?
Although fresh is always the best, it is possible to freeze fresh ginger for use later. We freeze fresh ginger to ensure we always have it on-hand – the texture is not as good but the flavour seems to be mostly intact and ten times better than ever using powdered ginger. We store it in the freezer in two forms: whole in one bag, and cut into small chunks in another bag.
When we need grated ginger we take a whole piece out, grate what we need from it in the frozen state, and put it back in the freezer. When we want small pieces of ginger, in a stir-fry for example, we take out a small chunk and cut it as desired. Again, fresh is always better, but it can be done.
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Chef Dez is a Food Columnist, Culinary Instructor & Cooking Show Performer. Visit him at www.chefdez.com
The next “Chef Dez on Cooking” column will appear approximately March 2/12.