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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Ingredient: Young Ginger

Young ginger

Since we are just beginning the new Ingredients series, I should probably be writing more about basic Thai ingredients before I venture out to more seasonal and harder to find stuff. But this is the height of the season for this particular ingredient, and I've been using a lot of it in my recent cooking, and it's probably a good idea to do this before the season is over.

What is this, you asked? This is young ginger. It looks more like galangal than it does ginger, but if you scratch a bit of the skin of and give it a sniff, you'd know that it is indeed ginger. Young ginger makes an appearance in Chinese or Asian markets around the beginning of Spring, and usually hangs around until Summer time.

Gingerfishenpapillotte_1 The flavor of young ginger is at once similar to and different from old ginger. It has all the pure flavor and brightness of ginger, without the strong bitter and astringent taste in older ginger. You can a lot of young ginger in a recipe without turning whatever you are making inedibly astringent and spicy.

I use young ginger in a lot of dishes, but one of my favorite is inspired by a Chinese dish of steamed fish with ginger and scallion. I made a couple of adaptations to suit the way I cook. I use fish filet instead of whole fish, and I don't steam my fish. The only steamer I have is huge, and I am usually far too impatient to wait for the water to boil and then steam anything. Instead, I bake my fish filet in a paper parcel instead, borrowing from an old French technique called en papillote. The effect is pretty much the same. The paper parcel keeps moisture in the fish just as well as steaming does, and when you are done eating the paper goes in the garbage, no pot or pan to wash.

Fish with young ginger and scallion en papillote
Serves 2

2 filets of Tai snapper, about 3-4oz or 100g each (If you don't have Tai snapper just about any white fish will do. You might have to adjust the cooking time a bit though.)
1/4 cup of julienned* scallion
1/4 cup of julienned young ginger
a little bit of cilantro (leaf only, no stem)
a bit of julienned red sweet pepper (for garnish, totally optional)
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp water
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp mild tasting oil (I use grapeseed oil)
2 pieces of 15x12' parchment paper

1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
2. PapilloteFold each paper in half. Put a piece of filet in the middle of each piece of paper and sprinkle about a quarter of the julienned ginger on each of the filet. Crimp the edges to make a half moon-shaped parcels**. Bake the parcels of fish on a cookie sheet for 8 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix the sugar, water, and soy sauce. Stir well until the sugar melt, then add the sesame oil. Set aside.
4. When the fish filets are ready, heat the 1 tbsp of mild oil until hot. (If you have a tiny butter pan, you can do this on the stovetop. If not, heat the oil in a small bowl in the microwave for 2 minutes on High. To test if the oil is hot enough, take a long stem of cilantro and dip one end in the hot oil, if the oil sizzles and wilts the cilantro, then it is ready.)
5. Place each parcel on a plate. Cut them open (by cutting around the crimped edge) and sprinkle the rest of the scallion and young ginger on both pieces of fish. Spoon half the soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil mixture on each parcel.
6. Spoon 1/2 tbsp of hot oil on each parcel. Be careful as the oil will splatter a bit. Serve immediately.

*Julienne, a French culinary term, is a style of cutting any vegetable into thin matchstick-size pieces.

** If you google 'how to papillote' you will get a lot of confusing instructions, most of them requiring you to cut your paper into heart shape etc. I don't bother with any of that. I just cut it straight from the box into a rectangular, fold it in half, then crimp the edges to fold into half moon, sort of like the picture above. It's super easy.

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