Ask Peter: Making stem ginger
We have tried various methods to make stem ginger but have never been terribly successful: the ginger is always a bit tough and hard despite prolonged simmering and the sauce does not easily go syrupy. We have just discovered your method which we will try next. Why does it have to be blanched three times first? Does it improve the flavour/reduce bitterness? I think sometimes the ginger we buy is not the freshest, so we will be more selective in future. Shirley & Bob
I do love ginger. I guess it would be one of my desert island ingredients, as it’s incredibly refreshing grated and mixed with a little soy, lemon juice and diced fresh fish for a quick poke, and it’s also fabulous sliced in a coffee mug with honey and boiling water in winter to fight off a cold or a bad tummy. The freshness is crucial as you’ve noted yourselves. Older ginger, while concentrated in flavour (as moisture has evaporated) becomes too fibrous and hard to use in anything other than a stock. Older ginger needs blanching to remove some of the bitterness. Fresher ginger needs less blanching, and if it’s really fresh it can be so juicy and plump you really just need to scrub the skin, as you would a new potato, before using. Hopefully you can find some like that. However, if you’re simmering ginger in milk or cream it can sometimes curdle — so, again, it pays to blanch beforehand.
This is my stem ginger in syrup recipe which I have given once before in Bite. To make it, firstly, peel around 800g of ginger. You can do this really easily with a potato peeler — although the purists would use a teaspoon to scrape the skin off. If the ginger is knobbly, make sure you either pull the knobs off and use for something else, or get that teaspoon scraping properly! Slice the ginger against the grain, much as you would a fillet of meat — that is, don’t slice it lengthways, but across the tuber. You want to end up with 500-600g peeled and sliced ginger. Slice it as thin as you think you’d like it. For chocolate dipping you want it no more than 2mm thick. For use in scones, biscuits and the like it can be thicker, as you’re likely to chop it up anyway.
Place the sliced ginger in a non-reactive pot and add enough water to cover it by 1cm. Bring slowly to the boil, then simmer five minutes. Drain in a colander. Do this three times and when you’ve finished, put it back in the pot and pour on a litre of water and 850g of white sugar or unrefined golden sugar. You can use brown sugar but the ginger flavour will be masked and therefore less intense.
Add two good pinches of fine salt and slowly bring to a gentle boil, then cook until the syrup resembles a light runny honey. If you have a sugar thermometer, or a digital thermometer that you can immerse in liquid, cook until it reaches 106C.
At this point you can decant the ginger and syrup into sterilised jars, seal them while hot and leave to cool overnight at room temperature.
The next day place in a cool pantry or store in the fridge and the ginger will last for up to one year.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to [email protected] and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.