It's zesty, snappy, spicy, sweet, and sour. It's pickled ginger!
Used as a condiment to Japanese food, pickled ginger is usually served with sushi, sashimi, or bowls of rice. The purpose of the condiment is to cleanse the palate with its acidic and bright taste in between bites.
Did you know you can easily make your own pickled ginger at home - skipping the unnecessary use of aspartame and artificial food dyes that many jars contain? A homemade jar will last months (and if around long enough - years), in the fridge and can be served with more than just raw fish if that's something you don't have a taste for.
Keep reading for the recipe.
The Power of Ginger
Ginger is a pungent and aromatic rhizome whose Latin name (Zingiber officinale) comes from the Sanskrit word, singabera, meaning horns or antlers. It was one of the most important spices in medieval Europe and gingerbread cakes are just one example of its connection to modern times. (Here's a link to a recipe for a gingerbread cake I shared earlier From The Kitchen.)
Ginger is reputed to possess anti-nausea properties (that's where the idea to give ginger-ale for an upset tummy comes from), and the flavour itself has a remarkable culinary range. Similar to lemons, ginger can be refreshing and bright and complement other flavours without dominating them.
Pickled ginger, also known as Gari, is thinly sliced ginger macerated in a sweet, vinegary brine. Traditionally pink coloured, it is often dyed with artificial food colourings which are very controversial additives that many people try to avoid as much as possible due to health risks. It is possible to source this condiment commercially prepared with 'natural' additives, but the cost for one of these jars is quite steep compared to the jars containing red dye #40. The simplest and most economical way to obtain the blush colour in pickled ginger is to make it yourself.
How to get the pretty pink hue? Use very fresh ginger or colour it with the addition of a red leaf or vegetable in the jar. If you don't have access to super fresh ginger (like mine obviously wasn't), I find the natural, golden yellow colour of the ginger to be just as attractive as the pink and taste wise - there is no noticeable difference.
As I mentioned above, pickled ginger does not have to be served with just sushi or sashimi; the acidity will cut the richness and intensity of many strong flavours leaving your palate and tastebuds refreshed while at the same time complementing the aromas in the dish. Similar to other pickled vegetables or condiments, the puckering punch of pickled ginger works the same way as do kosher dills paired with salami, kimchi and roasted pork belly, or mustard and hotdogs.
If you have never preserved or pickled before, the recipe below is for a refrigerator pickle meaning you will not be 'processing' or boiling the filled jars because it isn't necessary since you are storing it in the fridge. However, like preparing any sort of preserves or pickles, it is important to work with clean utensils and equipment that have been thoroughly washed in hot, soapy water then rinsed well. (As a note: Please wash your fruits and vegetables AND hands before any sort of food preparation. ALWAYS.) Sterilizing the empty jars in boiling water for 10 minutes before filling (after washing) is recommended.
Pickled Ginger - Recipe
185 g (about 1 1/2 c sliced) fresh ginger, sliced as thin as possible
1 1/2 t kosher salt
90 mL (1/3 c + 2 t) rice vinegar
90 mL (1/3 c + 2 t) water
70 g sugar (1/3 c) or to taste
To colour your pickled ginger, use very fresh ginger, add shiso leaves to the jars, or add a small piece of roasted beet to the jars.
Substitute with different vinegars and sugars for different flavours. Try red wine vinegar for pickling and maple syrup or honey for sweetening.
Serve pickled ginger with sushi, in sandwiches, or chopped in coleslaw or deviled eggs.
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.