Nobody likes gingers. Extensive research into the matter has proven that gingers have no souls. (Sorry Rupert Grint, just dye.) That’s not to say we here at Degrees of Prep have anything against redheads. They’re just a different breed, and not without soul. Case and point, give Bonnie Raitt a guitar. Mellow but spicy, smooth but piquant, not unlike… ginger!
There are so many things one can do with that gnarled claw that brings its wonderful flavor to the forefront of a dish. Sure, you could add it into Indian cuisine, as we’ve been doing recently, or pair some ginger beer with your takeout Thai or Chinese (my go-to lazy dinner option), but ginger is so good, wouldn’t you rather make it a star instead of a supporting actor (Rupert… you had so much potential!). Cookies, candy, cakes and scones are just a few of the mouth-watering options, and we’ll be getting to all in due time. For now, I’m stuck in infusion mode, experimenting and daydreaming about what interesting liqueurs and syrups I can tinker with… a common chemical engineers’ dream.
For those of you who know about the solubility of aromatic molecules (or have read Perfume: The Story of a Murderer), you will recall that perfumes, tinctures, and liqueurs are all prepared by similar methods of extracting smell and flavor… simply dunk ingredients into alcohol for a set period of time and the lovely organic molecules diffuse out into the less concentrated solution. In some cases, elevated temperatures or sightly different solvents are necessary. (In Perfume, the main character, Grenouille, uses these methods to extract the aroma from his fresh kills in order to build the best perfume the world has ever smelled. Yes, this is a food blog… we’ll keep things light from now on.) Almost any herb, fruit, root, bark, spice etc. can be made into a liqueur, but sometimes there are easier ways to extract these flavors. Not so with ginger. Preparing any ginger-tinged cocktail invariably requires a liqueur or syrup since ginger can’t effectively be macerated for speedy diffusion. While the most prevalent ginger liqueur available for sale is Domaine de Canton, a bottle of that would cost you close to $40! That’s not going to happen for an impecunious graduate student.
For our homemade ginger liqueur, we use a neutral grain alcohol (vodka in this case) as the liquor, which doesn’t interfere with the ginger-forward flavor, versus brandy or eau-de-vie. This also means that a vodka-based ginger liqueur should be easier to mix in cocktails of your choice without needing to balance the extra flavors. In our recipe, vanilla and lemon are complementary flavors that round out the ginger’s bite. Orange can be substituted for lemon, based on preference – I have tried both and orange is more subtle. As with our peach liqueur, the procedure is so simple, it is almost silly to provide a recipe… but that is why you’re here after all. So experiment and enjoy! (Don’t forget to leave your suggestions/recipes for ginger-forward cocktails in the comments.)
- 3.5 oz ginger root, diced
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 vanilla bean, sliced down the middle
- 16 oz vodka
- Lemon peel (or orange if you prefer)
- In a quart sized mason jar add ginger, sugar, vanilla bean (seeds scraped), vodka and lemon peel. Shake vigorously and put it on a shelf for two days. (Other recipes say to boil the ginger sugar and vanilla bean in a small amount of water then add the vodka - I see no need for this since the sugar will dissolve in the vodka anyway, and the water just dilutes the final product.) Shake once or twice every day. Remove the vanilla bean after the second day, recap and let sit for another 3-4 days (with intermittent agitation). Strain out the solids through a fine mesh strainer. Press or squeeze the ginger to recover as much liquid as possible. Filter the remaining liquid through two coffee filters (replace filters during the process if they clog, and they will). Bottle your liqueur and let it sit for an extra day (you will notice a mellowing of the flavor... or use it straight away!). Sip outright or mix into a GG&T (Ginger, Gin & Tonic) or cocktail of your choice.