Gingerbread: A nice and spicy winter warmer

Ginger is the flavour of comfort, giving heat without burn and a wintry aroma. Anthea Gerrie finds out how to make the most of it, from cocktails to cakes to stews

In the bleak midwinter, nothing is guaranteed to lift the spirits, tickle the tastebuds and warm the cockles quite like a dose of ginger. It’s hard to think of any other single ingredient that has equal power to zing up an aperitif, sing out in carrot or beetroot soup, add punch to beef stew, aromatic Oriental intrigue to seafood and depth to a curry – let alone infuse crisp biscuits, winter spice cakes and festive chocolates with a deep,  fragrant heat.

The culinary possibilities are endless, whether grating the fresh root to extract the zesty juice, drying and powdering it to concentrate the heat, dousing chunks in syrup, crystallising them in sugar or enrobing them in chocolate to create an exotic sweet treat. No wonder China’s great spice treasure has found its way into every one of the planet’s great cuisines.

“Fresh root ginger is the chameleon of the culinary world,” says Max Clark, of Leiths cookery school. “There are few ingredients that play such an integral part in the kitchens of so many diverse cultures. It’s pretty standard as a base ingredient for pastes in Indian, Middle Eastern and Caribbean cookery, while pieces of the root are added to clear broths in Thailand and China, pickled to accompany sushi and sashimi in Japan and the Greeks, French and Americans all make their own different drinks with it.”

Here in Britain, the Romans were gingering up their food 1500 years before Elizabeth I created the world’s first gingerbread man. No doubt she was celebrating the return to our shores of the long-vanished spice, courtesy of Marco Polo and the wily East India Company traders who smuggled cuttings of the precious plant into the subcontinent.

“It’s the one ingredient which is universally used in India from north to south, east to west, pounded with garlic into a marinade to deodorise the natural flavour of strong meat such as lamb and provide a blank canvas for other spices,” says Vivek Singh, of the Cinnamon Club. “Nothing goes into a tandoor without being rubbed with ginger and garlic paste.”

But he regrets that only those who grow their own in the spice gardens of Kerala get to enjoy the fragrant dash chopped ginger leaves add to a stir-fried potato curry: “They’re not harvested commercially, just an extra delight for the people who grow ginger mainly for its gorgeous flowers.”

The rest of us must content ourselves with a highly versatile, if unbeautiful, knobbly root, a pound of which once commanded the same price as a live sheep. Today, thanks to the Chinese, it’s as cheap as chips – you can spice up a soup and have plenty left over for a tandoori paste for lamb or chicken and a seasoning broth for scallops from a knob costing less than 30p.

“Ginger has come down to about £2 per kilo, a third the price of when we had to import it from Hawaii or Brazil when I joined the company 17 years ago,” says Jayesh Dodhia, of  Wealmoor, the largest supplier of fresh ginger to the British market. And there is good reason we think of ginger as a winter spice, he says: “Chinese, which is on sale now and will run through into the new year, is less stringy than the Thai and Brazilian which take over in June and July.”

Ginger is a growth market in Britain, as chefs discover ever more uses for a spice long known to have a special affinity with rhubarb and pears: “Fresh ginger also works with pineapple, orange and lime because of its citrussy quality,” says David Everett-Matthias, of the two-Michelin-starred Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham. He also puts it to more unexpected uses: “It’s wonderful grated into a ras-el- hanout for a Moroccan split-pea velouté topped with coconut milk foam.”

To get the most out of ginger, he likes to layer multiple forms into the same dish: “I use powdered as well as fresh ginger in a warm treacle and spice cake because the dry form has more perfume than the citrussy root, and can bring real depth to baking. I also add candied stem ginger; it’s by far the nicest way to enjoy the texture in a piece of whole root.” When grating, he recommends a microplane to get the necessary mush with minimum fibre; chefs who slice the root, such as American patissiere supreme Nancy Silverton, recommend blanching it first to eliminate excessive bite.

Another starred chef with unalloyed admiration for ginger is William Drabble, of Seven Park Place at the St James’s Hotel and Club. Having paired foie gras with roasted pear and ginger syrup for the festive season, he will lighten up January by sandwiching wafer-thin slices of salmon with pickled ginger and making an apple and ginger juice for lime parfait.

Juiced ginger is available as a new year detox shot at the Juice Bar in London’s Maltby Street Market, or mixed with with apple juice by Cawston Press, which also makes an apple-ginger beer. Ginger beer is an essential ingredient for the classic winter cocktail Moscow Mule, to which extra oomph can be added with a shot of The King’s Ginger liqueur, created by Berry Brothers to revivify Edward VII during morning rides in his horseless carriage. But you don’t need booze to enjoy the restorative properties of ginger – if you can’t afford to indulge in the superb mix of black tea and Sri Lankan dried ginger from the modern East India Company, just drop a 10p chunk of root into a mug of hot water and see how quickly it perks you up.

Great ginger recipes

Gregg Wallace’s carrot and ginger soup

450g of young carrots are sweated with an onion, a celery stalk and 2 small potatoes in oil and butter, then seasoned with 2 tablespoons of grated fresh ginger and a teaspoon of ground ginger before adding a litre of stock and 200ml of milk.

Full recipe in Veg: The Cookbook (Mitchell Beazley)

Tom Kerridge’s shin of beef with ginger

The chef of the two-Michelin- star Hand and Flowers at Marlow marinates six 225g pieces of shin in a bottle of red wine for 24 hours. He dries and sears the meat, and places on top of a mirepoix of stock vegetables mixed with 75-100g of root ginger, grated but not peeled.

The boiled and skimmed marinade is added, along with 1.5 litres of veal stock, a bunch of thyme and 3 teaspoons of sea salt.

After braising for two-and- a-half hours at 180C, the  shins are removed and the stock is reduced and sieved to make a rich, unctuous sauce for the meat.

Nancy Silverton's pear and ginger brown butter tart

In this gingeriest pudding on the planet, ginger appears in the pastry, the poaching syrup for the pears and a ginger brown butter filling. Both fresh and powdered ginger are copiously used.  

Full recipe in Desserts by Nancy Silverton, Harper & Row

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Amazon's drones were unveiled last year.
business
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Life and Style
Worth shelling out for: Atlantic lobsters are especially meaty
food + drink
News
i100
Sport
Gareth Bale
footballPaul Scholes on how Real Madrid's Welsh winger would be a perfect fit at Old Trafford if he leaves Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Lily James in ‘Cinderella’
film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss