The intense aroma and warmth fresh ginger adds to dishes is irreplaceable. The heat found in ginger is attributed to a chemical it contains called gingerol, which is closely related to the capsaicin found in hot peppers and the piperine in black pepper, but is much milder than the two. This mild heat, combined with floral and citrusy aromas, is what makes ginger such a versatile ingredient, just as vital in desserts such as gingersnaps and pumpkin pie as it is in savory dishes like Vietnamese-style chicken meatballs and tingling chili crisp.
When purchasing fresh ginger look for firm pieces, with taught tan skin, and minimal dry spots. If the ginger is looking shriveled, dried out, or has soft spots, it’s a sign the ginger is past its prime and won’t have good texture or flavor. Larger pieces tend to be less dried out because they have had fewer segments snapped off; the more that are snapped off, the more openings there are for moisture to escape. Some fresh ginger has a blue or green tinge on the flesh, which can be caused by long-term cold-storage or simply is an attribute of the particular varietal you picked up. In either case, it’s perfectly safe and doesn’t result in any significant changes to flavor once cooked.
Ginger is often called a root, but it is actually a rhizome, which means it is an underground stem that sends shoots and roots laterally in all directions. This is why ginger often looks so gnarly and knobby, making it tough to know where to get started when prepping it. Here are some tips on how to prep and store ginger, so you can easily incorporate it into your daily cooking.
Ginger Knife Skills: Peeling and Cutting
Although the skin on ginger is edible, it lacks flavor and, depending on how you plan to further process the ginger, can also lend an unpleasant texture to a dish. If I'm going to purée or blend my ginger (more on that below), then I don’t bother peeling it, because the blender will break the skin down completely, making it unnoticeable. If I'm cutting ginger into slices, matchsticks, or a fine dice, then it pays to take an extra moment to peel away the skin.
I find the easiest way to peel ginger is to start with a vegetable peeler to remove the majority of the skin. I then switch to a spoon, which is good for scraping away any remaining skin trapped within the grooves and nooks of the knob.
Each finger of ginger has tough fibers running lengthwise through it, so the key to getting tender pieces is to always cut across the grain, just as you would for carving a steak. Because one piece of ginger can have several fingers branching out in different directions, I like to start by separating each to make sure I’m always cutting each segment against the grain.
Once I’ve divided the knob of peeled ginger into individual fingers, I cut crosswise for slices. If a recipe calls for matchsticks, I then stack the slices and cut across again to yield thin and tender matchsticks. It can be tempting to cut ginger lengthwise for long matchsticks, but they’ll have those long fibers running lengthwise through them, resulting in a texture that’s stringy and tough. If for aesthetic reasons you prefer longer matchsticks, it’s better to cut diagonally across the finger, like slicing a baguette, which allows you to have long pieces that are still cut against the grain.
Bulk Prep: Purée and Freeze
If you’re anything like me, then you know what it feels like to regularly move through mountains of ginger. I use ginger frequently, so I don’t have time for peeling and fussy knife cuts—instead, I prefer to blend it into a purée and freeze it in bulk. Because the blender will be doing most of the work, I save time by leaving the peel on. However, it is still important to thinly slice the ginger against the grain. Even a high-end blender like the Vita Prep will struggle to break down tough fibers.
After slicing the ginger crosswise, I blend it into a smooth purée with just enough water to get things moving. I finally freeze the ginger purée flat in zip top bags. Any time I need ginger I just have to crack off a piece—since the ginger is frozen flat, it quickly melts back into a purée. The purée is perfect for instant ginger tea, for adding some kick to your morning smoothie, and for stirring into braises.
Need Only a Little: Peel, Freeze Whole, and Grate as Needed
An unpeeled knob of ginger can hold up pretty well in the fridge for a couple weeks, but if you use it only occasionally you’re better off storing it in the freezer. After peeling a knob of ginger, I wrap it tightly in plastic and store it in the freezer whole. I then use a microplane to grate if from frozen for delicate flakes of ginger snow, which easily work their way into cocktails and sauces. Because you’ve already gotten the fussy peeling out of the way, you can quickly add a punch of ginger to any dish.