Maybe you call it candied ginger
I make this in approximately five (+++) pound batches. If you don't have five hours to kill and want to make a smaller batch, it'll still eat up more time than you were willing to spend. For me, huge quantities justify the amount of time and effort that goes into this process. Especially considering that 95% of the finished product is given away. I've made this hundreds of times based loosely on a somewhat misleading recipe i got from the Food Network. I still pretty much stick to the same recipe. But old Alton Brown left out a good deal of information that i wasn't prepared for when i stepped into this pool. It took a few years, but i feel like i finally got it just right. I'll put my ginger up against Alton's any day of the week in a million dollar blind taste test.
A few tips before getting started:
- First: (this is important) Go to the nearest Asian Market to get the ginger*. Any and every grocery store will charge you $3.99 per pound for fresh ginger (and, nine times out of ten, their selection is piss-poor). The Asian Market charges $1.49/lb**. When you're buying 8 pounds every other week, it really starts to add up. And choose the largest, least knobby pieces. Peeling this much ginger is a nightmare. Spend as little time as you have to on it.
- Second: I use vegan cane sugar from Whole Foods. Because it's cheaper than their regular cane sugar. It's still probably more than i should be paying for sugar. But this is the only time i ever buy sugar. I've been using it since i started doing this and i've sort of got it down to a science. So i'm not interested in trying the cheapo generic sugar, which probably works just as well. I'm willing to spend a little more on sugar that works for me. Feel free to use any sugar you like. (Just take care to not blame me when your ginger comes out less than perfect.)
- Third: This takes a lot of time. Even if you're only making a pound it's a commitment. But well worth it.
- Between 7-8 pounds of fresh ginger (A lot of weight is lost in the peeling process.)
- Between 5-6 pounds of sugar (We can't be exact until the ginger is peeled.)
What you'll need:
- A large stainless steel pot with a heavy bottom (Mine is 20 quarts, which is about 8 quarts more than i need. It keeps boil overs to a minimum.)
- Another not so large pot (optional if you don't run with the syrup crowd)
- A wire cooling rack big enough to hold all of this (roughly 18"x24" works for the 5-8 pound batch)
- A very heavy wooden spoon to stir this hot mess (I've broken more than a few.)
- Parchment paper or aluminum foil
- A kitchen scale
- A colander
- A somewhat large clean tupperware container (I've resorted to quart sized yogurt containers in a pinch, but this really comes in handy.)
- A measuring cup
1: Peel the ginger. You can use a vegetable peeler for this. More often than not i find a small knife works better. A ginger rhizome is not a carrot. This is the most time-consuming part. Peeling 8 pounds of ginger can take two hours or longer. Depending on the ginger. Depending on how sick of peeling ginger you are. And it will shrink 8 pounds down to somewhere between 5 and 6. I've heard that using a spoon will reduce the waste, but i haven't had much luck with spoons.
2: Weigh the peeled ginger. Weigh the same amount of sugar. Set the sugar aside until you get to step 7.
3: Boil enough water to cover all of your ginger.
4: While the water is boiling, slice the ginger into pieces roughly 1/4" thick. I first started out cutting much thinner slices. Each time i do this i cut it a little thicker. The ginger shrinks a lot during the cooking. Thin pieces will turn out dry and hard. Thicker is better. Thicker is chewy. I have not yet figured out how thick is too thick, but i'm quite sure there's a limit.
5: Put the sliced ginger into the boiling water. Return to a boil, turn the heat down to a steady simmer, cover loosely, and let it cook for half an hour. This is the only time you have to relax. Take advantage. Breathe deep.
6: Turn off the heat. Rest the colander over the second pot. Drain the boiled ginger into the colander. Save the water. This can be syrup.
7: Put the ginger and the sugar you weighed earlier back into the big pot. Add 1/4 cup of the drained ginger water per pound of ginger (I don't know if this actually has any effect. It was in the recipe i started with, and i haven't let it go. I seriously doubt it matters, but so far it's worked. Until now, it's not crossed my mind to see what would happen if i skipped this step....). Stir it all together, bring to a boil, and turn the heat down to med/high.
8: While it's heating up, lay out a few sheets of parchment or aluminum foil somewhere with enough space to allow for sprays of sugar (Be generous). Parchment is better. Aluminum foil tears too easily. Put your wire cooling rack on top of this. This is also a good time to wash and thoroughly dry the colander. You'll need it later.
9: (If spending two hours peeling ginger with your soggy fingers didn't do it, then this is the step that will make you question why you thought this was a good idea in the first place.)
Once the sugar and ginger have reached a boil and you've lowered the heat, take that heavy wooden spoon, stand over the pot, and stir. For the first 45 minutes or so you're safe to let it go for a bit without constant stirring. But keep a close eye on it. It will try like mad to boil over. It will boil over. And when it does, the mess is no fun at all to clean up. Honestly, you're better off with your eye on the pot from the start. Watch it. Stir it when the foam starts to rise. Keep it at the high end of med/high. This seems to speed up the cooking a little, but will also make the pot more likely to boil over. Somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour, the foam will get really aggressive. When this happens, you'll need to keep stirring full time. At some point between 1 and 2 hours of boiling and stirring, the sugar will start to get thick.
9.5: When you can drag the spoon from one side of the bottom of the pot to the other and the mixture doesn't immediately pool back into a soup, turn off the heat. It's ready.
- Almost always for me, this happens right around the hour and fifteen minute mark. Occasionally a little closer to an hour and a half. But i have spent two and a half hours stirring boiling sugar more than once. And each time it happened, i swore i'd never make this shit again. .....Yet here i am. I'm not smart enough to figure out why this hour long difference happens. If you're paying attention, you'll notice when it first starts to thicken. After that, just keep watch. And keep stirring. You'll sweat bullets, your face will get sticky and your wrist will ache. But if you lose focus at this point, you may end up burning the whole lot. It goes from thick to crystallized in a relatively small window of time.
10: Give the mix a few final stirs. This is the point where your wooden spoons start to break. By now it should be difficult to stir and the sugar should once again look like sugar (soggy sugar). If it looks at all like a liquid, it needs to cook longer. Scoop it all out onto the cooling rack. Using your spoon and/or a set of tongs (two utensils come in handy here) spread the ginger out. Separate the pieces before they fuse together. It's a hot mound of sugar right now. If left unattended it will turn into a solid mound of inedible tooth decay.
11: After it's cooled enough to handle, scoop reasonable sized amounts into your world famous tupperware container. Put the lid on tight and shake it like hell (Keep a tight grasp on the lid. The heat will make it pop off, and you'll end up with a floor full of sugar). This serves to loosen up of most of the hardened sugar and soften the ginger up a little. Take off the lid, dump the ginger into the colander, and shake off the excess sugar. Set the ginger aside in a bowl to cool. Repeat.
I've fallen into the habit of removing the ginger from the colander by the fistful, and squeezing the hell out of it before transferring it to the bowl. It breaks up even more of the crusty sugar. If you try this, keep in mind that even though you've let it cool a bit already, it will be hot.
Save the sugar. This too can be syrup.
12: Let the finished ginger cool completely (I usually let it sit overnight), transfer it to airtight containers, and give it all away. It tastes the best when it's still warm, but the people you're giving it to have never been lucky enough to sample it fresh out of the pot. They won't know what they're missing.
- Store it at room temperature in a well sealed container. I can't say how long this stuff will last. It disappears too quickly around these parts. All i know is that if you keep it sealed up tight, it'll be good for at least a few months. Though it does start to get a bit stale. You're better off eating it as soon as possible.
13: Remember the boiling water you saved? And the sugar? Mix these with brown sugar and just a little vanilla extract. I can't give measurements here. Experiment. Start with a 3/1 ratio of sugar to water (you'll have more than enough ginger water leftover to adjust the thickness if need be). Not too much brown sugar. Boil. Reduce heat. Cook it down for twenty minutes or so. (Keep an eye on this as well. It foams up quickly.) Pour it through a strainer to get rid of any loose bits that are floating around.
This is ginger syrup.
Perfect on ice cream.
Perfect by the spoonful.
Syrup isn't all that these leftovers are good for. The water can be ginger ale/beer/tea (I'm sure there's more you can do with it, but that's as far as i've gotten). The sugar can be used in any recipe if you're the baking type. Or it can be substituted for regular sugar just about anywhere, i guess. What do i know from sugar?
The sugar can also be rock candy, but that's a process that i've just started working out the details of.
- A side note: If you want to use any of the leftover sugar in the future, freeze it. It's been boiling with food for a considerable time. It will go bad if left out like normal sugar. Also, it will be hard and clumpy. This is easily remedied by running it through a food processor before freezing.
- And keep the syrup in the icebox. I feel like i don't need to mention this, but smart enough people i know have left it out only to find a jar full of sticky moldy slop (Though i've had a jar of it in the pantry for well over a year and see no signs of mold).
Just trying to cover everything here.
*If the Asian Market only has the tiny pre-priced shrink wrapped styrofoam trays of ginger (which most do), just ask. In my experience, they usually have a stash in the back room and are willing to bring it out loose for you.
** Five months after writing this, the market i've relied on for years to supply me with $1.49/lb ginger has raised their prices twice. They're now getting dangerously close to supermarket prices. But i still love them because they're family owned, their ginger is far better than any grocery/supermarket, and the woman at the counter always breaks the news about the price increase gently.(Now that i think about it, maybe they're just wise to me.) Shop around. Find the right Asian market. They'll always be cheaper, even if not by much.
***Cooking starts at step 1. Peeling is cooking.