Fragrant Food Memories - Humble, Stunning Ginger-Scallion Sauce

  If Proust had been Chinese instead of French we might all wax eloquent about ginger-scallion sauce instead of Madeleines.

This condiment, a humble but wondrous concoction, elicits squeals of delight and swooning beyond any rational explanation. Francis Lam suggests you might even find your sofa edible with the right spoonful. Pat Tanumihardja's Asian Grandmothers cookbook concurs. Ask any friend from Hong Kong and I'll bet they will claim their Mother or Auntie makes "the best" one.


I was researching this sauce in preparation for a dinner recently and C happened to walk by the desk, seeing a photo in someone's recipe I found online. He stopped. "Wow! I totally remember the smell of that being made. I LOVE that stuff. Can you make it?"

For the man to have that sort of Proustian moment - he went on to describe Mom's special bowl, just for making it; being at Uncle King's and smelling the fragrant steam waft up from the bubbling mix - for this guy to have that kind of moment stopped me in my tracks. I mean, I married a man that could just about live on neon orange Mac n Cheese from a blue box and cheap candy, the sweeter and more artificial, the better. So I knew we were on to something.

I recalled his beloved Aunt Linda gifting little pots of it to her daughters, our cousins, over the holidays, after we'd enjoyed yet another amazing meal at her house.

Digging, Scraping

Determined to come up with my own version of homemade ginger-scallion sauce, I began my research. I found Francis Lam's recipe in in June of last year. It includes instructions to "Salt the ginger and scallion like they called your mother a bad name and stir it well." I followed these measurements and instructions.

I also took cues from a recipe in Pat Tanumihardja's Asian Grandmothers Cookbook. It includes the common description of "a three inch piece of fresh ginger" (Sometimes I've seen "a large knob of ginger" sometimes also with a helpful descriptor "about the size of your thumb.")

As I reviewed recipes, I was thinking that so much of Asian cooking is by touch, by feel, by scent. I recall my friend Raghavan Iyer describing how Indians cook with their hands: "Cooking with utensils is like making love through an interpreter, it can be done, but it's not nearly as much fun!"

All this makes it difficult to teach a home style recipe via print or web, especially if you're not familiar with the ingredients or the techniques. This makes me appreciate my Asian cookbook authors even more!

Pat's book is a wonderful window into many favorite homestyle meals, comfort food to celebration food, from all over Asia. This is a visit with a friend, an introduction to cherished family recipes. So I was digging through recipes, scraping away papery ginger skin.

I noticed that my current ginger was rather large, and the next we purchased ginger was rather small...another variable. This recipe is so easy and enticing, so fragrant, it's the perfect foil to simple poached chicken or fish, I really wanted you to be able to try it at home.


Tip: the best way to peel ginger - scrape with a teaspoon. You will lose less of the juicy, fleshy part of the ginger than if you peel with a paring knife or vegetable peeler.

My first batch was a little salty to my taste (I have been known to fiercely defend those I love, so perhaps I should have dialed back on the imagined insult to my mother.) I grated a little fresh ginger into the slightly salty batch and it was a hit. I was immediately asked to replicate it, and I decided to make my own recipe, measuring things as I went along, to share it with you.

Ginger-Scallion Sauce

I think this is one of those recipes that each cook makes to her own taste. I've seen recipes that call for garlic, some that add soy. I followed Pat's and Francis' recipes to guide me in my first attempt. I measured things here to encourage you to try your own. Since there are so few ingredients, it is imperative that you use the best, organic ingredients you can get your hands on. It's served with simple poached or steamed or roasted foods, and many of us would feel no shame in admitting that the other thing you eat it with is merely a vehicle for conveying this yummy stuff to your mouth. Almost.


  • 1/3 C +2 TBSP of ginger, fresh organic ginger, peeled and chopped in food processor or by hand
  • 1 C scallion, chopped, process separately in food processor
  • 3/4 C best quality peanut oil, (I use Spectrum)
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt (any salt but not Morton's Iodized)
  • 1/2 tsp best quality soy sauce



  1. Peel, then mince ginger, chop in processor. Stop before it begins to turn to a paste.
  2. Place minced ginger in deep, heat proof bowl (like you'd use for making French onion soup).
  3. Mince scallions, process in same way.
  4. Add to ginger, you should still have room for mixture to bubble up some as the oil sizzles the ginger and scallion.
  5. Add the salt, mix.
  6. Heat your peanut oil - you want it really hot, but not burnt. As it heats you'll begin to see shimmery lines and it will become fragrant. Just when it starts to smoke, it is ready. The color will also become more transparent.
  7. Finish with 1/2 tsp of soy sauce.
The oil will sizzle and steam when it hits the ginger scallion mixture. This is what you want. My first batch was a bit too salty for my taste and I didn't see enough sizzle. It was still really good. This recipe and instructions will hopefully ensure that your first attempt is great and encourages you to make more. As Francis says, it makes everything taste good, though I'd stop short of the sofa.
Do you make this? Have you tried it?
Will you try it now and let me know how you like it?