Traverse City Record-Eagle

Food

August 5, 2012

Fresh ginger: What it is (peppery); how to use it (with meat, veggies)

People have been eating it for thousands of years, yet still no one can tell me why it should be peeled. So I don't, and neither should you.

"It" being fresh ginger, the gnarly brown root that lives amongst the grocer's Asian produce. And the flavor is so much better than dried, you must get to know it.

Most of us think of ginger as the powder in the spice cabinet and use it mostly for baking. In Asia, where ginger originated, it's more a savory ingredient. That's because fresh ginger packs tons of warm, pungent, peppery flavor that works so well with meats and vegetables.

Though they can be used interchangeably, the flavor of fresh ginger is more pronounced than dried, sporting heavy citrus, even acidic notes. In Asia, fresh ginger is an essential part of numerous classic dishes, including stir-fries, soups, sauces and marinades, as well as Indian curries.

When cooking with fresh ginger, keep in mind a couple things.

First, cooking mellows the flavor. So if you want to really taste it, add some ginger at the beginning of cooking, and a bit more at the end.

Second, the strength of the ginger can vary widely by the piece. So if you're looking for a serious hit of ginger, taste it before you add it.

Now, about that peeling. Watch cooking shows and read recipes, and you'll be told again and again to peel your ginger before chopping, slicing or grating it. I have no idea why. The skin is entirely edible and doesn't change the flavor. So save yourself the time and effort, and just use your ginger as is.

And the best tool for the job is a wand-style grater, such as a Microplane. These graters quickly reduce ginger root to fine shavings or pulp ideal for cooking.

When shopping for fresh ginger, look for firm, tan roots with no signs of mold or shriveling. It can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks. But I prefer to freeze my fresh ginger. Frozen ginger lasts for months and is easier to grate than fresh.

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