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.
Determined to come up with my own version of homemade ginger-scallion sauce, I began my research. I found Francis Lam's recipe in Salon.com 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.
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
- Peel, then mince ginger, chop in processor. Stop before it begins to turn to a paste.
- Place minced ginger in deep, heat proof bowl (like you'd use for making French onion soup).
- Mince scallions, process in same way.
- Add to ginger, you should still have room for mixture to bubble up some as the oil sizzles the ginger and scallion.
- Add the salt, mix.
- 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.
- Finish with 1/2 tsp of soy sauce.
Somen are a such a summer treat we used to beg Mom to make them. They're so cool and comforting on a hot summer day. A little umami in the light broth and a touch of grated fresh ginger give them zing. The only drawback was patience. We had none and they require a little. You see, somen are eaten cold. Here's what the ultra-thin wheat noodles look like. There's something about the delicate noodles, their very thin diameter even required a special colander, lest they slide through the holes of a regular colander. Thinking about it now, I believe it was all the various things that were unique about these that made us as kids feel we were getting a special treat.
Even the boiling of them is special. You un-bind the noodles (each handful have a little ribbon holding them together) and drop them into boiling water. They will quickly slip into the water, as it begins to boil up again, you pour in a cup of tap water. This cools the boiling water down. By the time it comes back up to a boil the noodles are done.
Drain them in a very fine colander. Toss in some ice cubes, if you like to cool the noodles faster.
Mom would insist on refrigerating the noodles, as if to use ice was to cheat.
Now here's a great trick for peeling fresh ginger. The outer skin should be taught and blemish-free. In fact, it's so thin that using a regular vegetable peeler or even a paring knife, you take away too much of the juicy ginger flesh just under the papery skin.
Guess what the perfect tool for the job is?
Using the convex side of a teaspoon, simply scrape the ginger.
This is what the peeled skin looks like as it comes away from the flesh of the ginger.
How cool is that? You know who I learned this trick from? A kid in Southie. Not kidding, not my Mom, not my Grandma. A kid in an after-school cooking program I once volunteered for, showed me!
See the ginger is intact but for the thin skin. That grater is designed just for ginger, the brush is one thin piece of bamboo, sliced into a thin fringe that is perfect for getting the grated ginger off the teeth of the grater.
On the left you can see a pile of freshly grated ginger, on the right you can see the fibers of the ginger and the marks of the grater's teeth.
Now making your own homemade tsuyu is better, it's not even that hard to do. But once in while, you just want to eat (plus there's that ginger to grate and noodles to chill) Really, I just wanted to give you permission. I'll do a post on making dashi another time. But I just want you all to try the noodles. The sauce is sometimes concentrated so be sure you know which yours is. You want a small, deep bowl, you'll be grabbing a bunch of noodles, a little ginger, some shards of seasoned nori and dipping them lightly into the broth and slurping away.
Cold noodles, dipping sauce on the left, slivers of seasoned nori, and ginger. You can add shredded poached chicken, tofu or slivers of green onion.