Slightly oddly shaped, like fat misshapen hands, ginger originated in China before spreading to India, South-east Asia, West Africa and the Caribbean. Its very distinct flavour is not hot exactly, but nonetheless it has the ability to lend heat and freshness to dishes. Chameleon-esque, it works with almost anything – from meat and fish to fruit and vegetables.
It is also a perfect partner to the heat of fresh chillies, the sourness of tamarind or lime and the caramel sweetness of palm sugar. Added to just one or two spices, such as cardamom and mustard seeds, and finished with a glug or two of fish sauce, this versatile ingredient can very quickly give you the base for a simple but delicious curry.
Ginger's sprightly, lively flavour is a particularly wonderful addition to food cooked during these cold winter months. An explosion of pure, unadulterated, zingy heat in the mouth.
When buying fresh ginger, the skin should be tight, not wrinkly and soft, and it should snap crisply when bent and ooze a sharp, watery juice that is capable of making the eye squint with its heady, powerful flavour. A spice indeed in the true sense of the word: exotic, warm, and fragrant – and utterly particular in flavour.
A word of caution, though: its flavour can easily overpower that of other ingredients it may be paired with, so learn to use it with a sense of balance and proportion – a teaspoon or two of finely chopped raw ginger, for example, is plenty to complement the sweet, delicate aniseed flavour of gently cooked fennel in the recipe opposite.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627. Her book 'A Year in My Kitchen', Quadrille, is the 2007 Guild of Food Writers' Cookery Book of the Year
Colchester native oysters with ginger, mirin and soya sauce
Colchester native oysters are a lovely oyster from the mouth of the Colchester estuary, small and round and at times difficult to prise open. They have a delicious saltiness to them and are lovely eaten plain, but this is a very nice alternative. The slight acidity of the mirin – a Japanese rice wine similar to sake, but with a lower alcohol content that is available from Asian food shops and specialty sections in most major supermarkets – provides balance and contrast.
50ml/2fl oz mirin
40ml/11/2fl oz of tamari or other good-quality soy sauce
11/2 tsp sesame oil
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into the finest julienne
1tsp of freshly squeezed lime juice
The zest of one lime
6 oysters per person
Place the mirin, tamari and sesame oil together in a bowl. Stir together to combine, and add the finely sliced ginger, lime juice and zest, then stir again.
Use an oyster chucker to prise open the oysters, then place them on top of a bowl of shaved ice. Oysters are delicious served this way – it keeps them nice and cold, like the winter sea, which is important.
Serve with the sauce alongside in a small bowl for people to help themselves.
Halibut with braised fennel and ginger
3 fennel bulbs
1 inch of ginger
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
25ml/1fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 dried chilli
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
20ml/1fl oz tamari or soy sauce
180g/6oz halibut per person
30ml/1fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Lemon to serve
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Wash and pat dry the fennel. Using a sharp knife, slice through the base and remove the fibrous outer layer and slice in half lengthwise. Slice into quarters and place in a baking tray. Peel and chop the ginger finely and scatter over the fennel. Do the same with the garlic. Pour over the olive oil and scatter over the dried chilli. Season with a pinch of salt and finish with the tamari. Cover tightly with foil, place on the middle shelf of the oven and roast for 20 minutes with the foil on, then remove and cook for a further 15 minutes without the foil. The fennel should be very soft. Remove from the oven and taste, seasoning with a little more salt if necessary. I often add a drop or two of lemon juice at this point; I find it brings all the flavours together nicely. Set aside while you cook the fish.
Leave the oven on. Season the fish generously on both sides. Place a non-stick pan over a high heat on the stove. Pour in the olive oil and when a fine smoke begins to rise from the pan, add the fish skin-side down. Cook without moving until the skin removes itself from the bottom of the pan. Move the pan to the oven without turning and cook until the flesh is opaque; this takes four to five minutes. Remove from the oven and serve with the warm fennel. '
Syllabub is a quintessentially English dessert. When done well, its clean, light flavour makes a satisfying end to a meal. Very quick and easy to make, it is lovely served just on its own or perhaps with some little crumbly shortbread biscuits – or, at this time of year, with a little plate of sliced blood oranges.
200g/7oz caster sugar
200ml/7fl oz dry sherry
The finely grated zest and juice of one lemon
1tbsp of very finely chopped stem ginger
600ml/1 pint double cream
Combine the sugar, sherry, lemon zest and juice in a bowl and stir well. In another bowl, very lightly whip the cream – just enough to thicken it slightly. Gently fold the sherry mixture into the cream until just combined – the addition of the sherry and lemon juice will continue to thicken the cream. At this point, fold in the chopped ginger with a little syrup from the jar.
Spoon the syllabub into small glasses and refrigerate for an hour or so; just long enough to lightly chill before serving.
The Forager by Wendy Fogarty
Petersham's food sourcer on where to find ginger in all its forms...
* The freshest ginger can be bought from Asian food shops, while crystallised, candied and glacé ginger can be bought from health-food shops as well as local confectioners.
* Sarah Nelson's Grasmere Gingerbread (www.grasmeregingerbread.co.uk, tel: 01539 435 428). Still made to the same recipe Sarah Nelson used in the 1840s.
* Fentimans Ginger Beer www. fentimans.com. Made from natural ingredients, it has a lovely, hot "burn". Available from specialist food shops.
* Ginger liqueur from Lurgashall Winery in Sussex (www.lurgashall.co.uk).
* Pear and ginger chutney from artisan jam-maker Wendy Brandon (www. wendybrandon.co.uk).
* Stone's Original Green Ginger Wine, made since 1740 and available from www.thewhiskyexchange.com>.
* Sushi ginger from Japanese specialists Clearspring (www.clearspring.co.uk).