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People have been eating it for thousands of years, yet still no one can tell me why it should be peeled. So I don’t peel it, and neither should you. “It” being fresh ginger, the gnarly brown root that lives among the grocer’s Asian produce. And the flavor is so much better than dried — you must get to know it.
Most of us think of ginger as the powder in the spice cabinet and use it mostly for baking. In Asia, where ginger originated, it’s more a savory ingredient. That’s because fresh ginger packs tons of warm, pungent, peppery flavor that works so well with meats and vegetables.
Though they can be used interchangeably, the flavor of fresh ginger is more pronounced than dried, sporting heavy citrus, even acidic, notes. In Asia, fresh ginger is an essential part of numerous classic dishes, including stir-fries, soups, sauces and marinades, as well as Indian curries.
When cooking with fresh ginger, keep in mind a couple things. First, cooking mellows the flavor. So if you want to really taste it, add some ginger at the beginning of cooking, and a bit more at the end. Second, the strength of the ginger can vary widely by the piece. So if you’re looking for a serious hit of ginger, taste it before you add it.
Now, about that peeling. Watch cooking shows and read recipes, and you’ll be told again and again to peel your ginger before chopping, slicing or grating it.
I have no idea why. The skin is entirely edible and doesn’t change the flavor. So save yourself the time and effort, and just use your ginger as-is. And the best tool for the job is a wand-style grater, such as a Microplane. These graters quickly reduce ginger root to fine shavings or pulp ideal for cooking.
When shopping for fresh ginger, look for firm, tan roots with no signs of mold or shriveling. It can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks. But I prefer to freeze my fresh ginger — frozen ginger lasts for months and is easier to grate than fresh.
So what should you do with it?
• Ginger pairs wonderfully with bananas (they are distant relatives), so add grated fresh ginger to banana bread or muffins.
• Ginger also likes apples, so add it to applesauce and apple pie. Or combine it with apples and sugar and simmer to make a compote for topping pancakes.
• Substitute grated fresh ginger for some or all of the powdered ginger called for in your favorite gingerbread recipe.
• In Yemen, ginger is added to coffee. Give it a shot, but be sure to have sugar, cream and maybe a shot of cinnamon nearby.
• Make ginger ale by combining freshly grated ginger, simple syrup (or agave syrup) and seltzer water. A shot of lemon juice is nice, too.
• Combine grated ginger with orange juice and honey for basting a roast chicken or turkey.
• Simmer cubed butternut squash, chopped carrots and garlic in chicken broth. Add fresh ginger, salt and pepper, then puree for a delicious soup.
• Combine ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic and sesame oil for a killer marinade for beef (especially thinly sliced steaks).
Ginger-Orange Chicken Cutlets
Start to finish: 1 hour (20 minutes active)
1 cup orange juice
2-inch chunk fresh ginger
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1¼ cups panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup heavy cream
In a blender, combine the orange juice, ginger, garlic and salt. Puree until smooth, then set aside.
Carefully slice each chicken breast in half horizontally to create 2 thin halves. Place the chicken in a zip-close plastic bag, then add the orange juice mixture and close the bag.
Refrigerate the chicken for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours.
When ready to cook, heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
In a wide, shallow bowl, mix together the flour and garlic powder. Beat the egg in a second bowl, and pour the panko into a third.
One at a time, remove the chicken pieces from the marinade, reserving the marinade. Dredge each piece of chicken first through the flour, then the egg, then the panko. Arrange them on the prepared baking sheet.
Spritz the tops of the chicken with cooking spray, then bake for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, transfer the marinade to a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the cream.
Serve the chicken with the sauce.
J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is the author of the recent cookbook High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking. He also blogs at jmhirsch.