Alimentary, My Dear
Candied Ginger — It's Mal de Marvelous!
By Tamia Nelson
August 19, 2014
If you're wondering what the rather odd‑looking object in the photo is, it's a piece of fresh ginger root. To be stridently pedantic, the "root" is a rhizome, or underground stem, but since you're not likely to find a label saying "ginger rhizome" on any bin in the HyperMart produce section, ginger root it is. And the smell is as distinctive as the appearance, a pungent but not unpleasant aroma attributed to a number of volatile oils, many of which have demonstrated physiologic properties.
Of course, most of us know ginger by taste, rather than smell. What would gingerbread or ginger cookies be without this versatile spice? But ginger is good for a lot more than just making gingerbread men. Sailors drink ginger tea to prevent or allay seasickness, and back in the day, Farwell found that chewing candied ginger root helped to settle his stomach during short but memorable forays in assault boats (aka "rubber duckies"). He also made use of the selfsame remedy when dinghy sailing on the Neuse River Inlet and Pamlico Sound, and he still keeps a supply on hand for times when the wind and the waves join forces to upset his internal equilibrium. That said, it would be neither wise nor prudent to assume ginger will work the same magic for you. A good summary of the relevant literature, including the evidence bearing on safety and efficacy, can be found in the Wikipedia article on ginger, but any specific questions or concerns should be referred to your doctor.
OK. Are you satisfied that nothing prevents you from taking your ginger straight? And does the doc agree? Good. Then you might want to give it a try, particularly if you often make long open‑water crossings — or like to engage in a bit of canoe or kayak sailing — and you sometimes find that the state of your stomach mirrors the state of the sea around you. You'll find plenty of products to choose from in health‑food stores, food co‑ops, and "Oriental" (Asian) markets. But be sure you read the small print before you part with your money. All that glisters is not gold, and not all gingery nostrums contain appreciable amounts of real ginger.
There is another way of being sure you get what you pay for, however. Buy fresh ginger root and …
Make Your Own Candied Ginger
Candied ginger — it's also called crystallized ginger — is a chewy, toothsome confection, with a pleasant flavor that's simultaneously tangy (gingery, in other words), tart, and sweet. Here's what it looks like:
And while you can buy candied ginger readymade, it's less expensive to make it in your kitchen at home. Homemade also tastes better. In fact, it doubles as a delicious snack, and if you store it out of the light in a tightly closed container, it will keep for several weeks — several months if it's dried. So why not try your hand at making your own? You'll need some fresh ginger root, of course, and you'll likely find it in the produce aisles of your local HyperMart. Simply break off what you need. Don't get too much, however. Buy just what you'll use immediately — the fridge is fine for short‑term storage — or plan to freeze it.
Ready to get to work? Good. Let's begin:
- Rinse about ½ pound of ginger root. Dry. Then slice the root crosswise into coin‑sized rounds. You needn't scrape off the ginger's papery peel before cutting it up — I don't bother — but if you notice any discolored or hard bits, or if the peel simply doesn't appeal, go ahead.
- Place the rounds in a single layer in a skillet. Cover with water. Now simmer gently until the ginger is fork‑tender.
- Lift the ginger from the skillet and put it in a bowl. Drain the cooking water into a drinking cup and set the cup to one side.
- Weigh the cooked ginger, make a note of the weight, and return the ginger to the skillet. Now measure out an equal weight of granulated sugar into the bowl. Don't worry if the sugar is lumpy. It's the weight that counts.
- Add water to the sugar. Use just enough to make a thick syrup. (I used 3 tablespoons of water for 6 ounces of sugar.) Mix.
- Pour the sugar water over the candied ginger in the skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently.
- Before long, the fluid in the pan will develop a frothy "head." Continue simmering until almost all of it has boiled away. The sugar has now candied. It is extremely hot. Do NOT let any water drip into the pan at this point. If you do, the molten sugar will sizzle and spit, inflicting nasty burns on any unprotected flesh. Remove the pan from the heat and spread the ginger rounds out on a plate or baking sheet.
- Decant any remaining fluid into the cup of cooking water. Squeeze in some lime or lemon juice and enjoy a cup of real ginger tea while you …
- Allow the ginger to cool. Once it's reached room temperature, coat the pieces with granulated sugar. At this point, you have a decision to make. You can store the candied ginger as is, in a tightly sealed container, or you can dry it first. Dried crystallized ginger will keep better, but it also has a chewier, more leathery texture. I don't bother to dry ginger I plan to use in the next week or two, but if I expect that it will linger longer on the shelf (or in the pack), I pop the sugared rounds — still on the baking sheet — into the oven and dry them at the lowest setting for 30 minutes or so, in much the same way that I home‑dry fruits and vegetables. (If you have a proper dehydrator, by all means use that, rather than your oven.)
Now we'll take a closer look at the process, with the help of some sequential photos. Start by cutting the root crosswise into 1⁄8‑inch‑thick rounds (Photo 1). Place them in a skillet and simmer in water (Photo 2) till the ginger is fork‑tender. Use a slotted spoon to lift the ginger pieces from the infusion and put them in a bowl, then decant the cooking water (ginger tea) into a cup (Photo 3).
After zeroing your scale to eliminate the weight of the bowl, weigh the cooked ginger. Make a note of the weight before returning the ginger to the skillet. Next, add an equal weight of granulated sugar to the bowl (Photo 4). Add water to the sugar and mix thoroughly (Photo 5), then pour the sugar water over the ginger in the skillet (Photo 6).
Simmer the ginger in the sugar water until very little fluid remains (Photo 7). (It will foam and froth first.) Now carefully lift the ginger from the pan and place it on a baking sheet or plate. Decant any remaining candied sugar into your waiting cup of ginger tea (Photo 8). Add lemon or lime juice — you can add honey or more sugar, too, if you want — and sip it while the candied ginger cools. Sprinkle a generous amount of sugar onto the cooled ginger (Photo 9) before storing it in an airtight jar or other container. (As I mentioned earlier, you may wish to dry your newly made crystallized ginger first, especially if it won't be consumed in the next week or two.)
That's it. Let the wind howl and the waves mount ever higher. You're ready.
If you suffer from seasickness, you're in good company: Admiral Lord Nelson had trouble keeping his breakfast down during hard blows off Cadiz. But you don't have to turn a blind eye to your misery. You can do something about it. Get the doc's OK and head for the HyperMart, where you'll find a ginger root waiting for you. Then, once you've candied it, you'll have what you need to stomach the heaviest swell. And candied ginger tastes good, too. I'd go so far as to say it's mal de marvelous.
Related Articles From In the Same Boat
- Alimentary, My Dear, a collection of 150 — count them! — columns that are sure to be of interest to camp cooks and hungry paddlers.
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