Gingerroot (sometimes just referred to as fresh ginger) is a rhizome plant that grows horizontally, with green shoots above ground and knobby stems below. What grows beneath the soil line is what we use in the kitchen. The shoots are generally not sold, although sometimes you might find them at farmers markets with a small knob of the stem attached.
Open my teeny freezer anytime of year and I guarantee you that you’ll find a plastic bag, or two, of ginger. One bag will contain grated ginger, the other sliced coins of ginger.
Why? Because ginger is a secret weapon for flavoring stir fries, rice dishes, coconut milk-based soups and a myriad of other dishes. Its pungent heat also counterbalances strong fish flavors, too, making it a natural flavor component for tuna and salmon.
Invariably, I’ve bought more than I need at any given time, so packaging it up for later is the only sensible thing to do.
I will likely get a visit from the “ginger police” after this comment, but I’m going to say it anyway. I break off a knob of ginger right there in the grocery store for two reasons. One, I don’t want to buy a piece as big as my hand, but the main reason I do it is because I’m looking for a sign of how fresh the ginger is.
If I see a pale green or gray ring just inside the skin, it means that the ginger’s been sittin’ around awhile. It’s still OK to use, but it won’t be as juicy or sharp as ginger without the “age ring.”
Peeling ginger (which I think is essential but some chefs do not) is best done with a spoon, which scrapes off just the thin skin. It’s a little trick I learned from watching Martin Yan on Yan Can Cook. A few years ago, we were seated next to each other during a cookbook signing – Walters/Yan, alphabetically, you know and Ann Willan was on the other side of me. I was a bit star-struck. Anyway, I thanked Yan for showing me the easiest way to peel ginger, which leaves much more of the flesh than a knife or peeler does. How often do you get to thank one of your favorite PBS cooking stars?
After peeling the ginger, grate it with a microplane or ginger grater or slice it into thin coins. (I use the coins for flavoring broths and steeping with tea.)
Pop the ginger into freezer zipper bags, label with the date and that it’s ginger, lest you forget, and put them in the freezer. The freezer life is about three, maybe four months. Anytime you come across a recipe for fresh ginger, you can use your freezer stash instead of running to the store. I’m not going to lie and say that it is just as good as fresh – it’s not – but it’s beats no ginger, and dry, ground ginger is simply not a substitute for fresh (or frozen) ginger.
Gingerroot (Zingiber officinale)
Uses: culinary and medicinal (aids in digestion, helps with nausea)
Flavor: sharp, peppery
Buy: tight, smooth-skinned knobs
Store: in the refrigerator for a couple weeks or frozen for up to four months