Rise of the Rhizome Transcript

The Kitchen

GUEST: Gingerbread Man

AB: [as in a psychiatrist's office, AB is talking to a large gingerbread man which is lying on a couch] So I want to make sure I understand this: you ran away from your elderly parents, then narrowly escaped being consumed bylet me seeit was a chicken, a dog, a cow, and a horse before you were attacked and injured by a wily fox? Is that right?
GINGERBREAD MAN: [holds up one of his arms sporting a bandage]
AB: Oh, that is nasty. And yet what you find really upsetting is that after just a nibble, this fox let you go saying that you didn't taste very good. Is that right?
GBM: [nods and moans]
AB: Yeah, well, it's not surprising, really. I mean, you are, after all, an American gingerbread man. And unfortunately unlike the French or Germans or even the English, American cooks are, well, stingy with the ginger. And what's worse is they typically only use store-bought, pre-ground powders that lack verve, potency, pep. As the Brits say, "you need gingering up," my friend. And that's just fine with me. Because although you may be fairly flavorless, ginger is nothing, if not ...

[Good Eats Theme]

Harry's Farmers Market
Marietta, GA 10:24am

    [at a display of ornamental ginger plants] Unlike flashy red ornamental ginger which you often see in flower shops, culinary ginger, zingiber officinale, is actually kind of lackluster to look at. Nothing fancy here, kind of reedy. What really distinguishes this plant is what is underground. [picks a plant, revealing the ginger]  Now although it's often referred to as a ginger root, it is not a root nor is it a tuber. It is in fact a self-replicating horizontal stem called a rhizome. Each one of these little fingers is capable of producing a new plant, genetically identical to the mother plant. Now very young ginger like this is often found in Asian markets from spring to summer. And it often comes from Hawaii or other Pacific Rim countries. And it's typified by a translucent, sometimes flaky skin, which does not have to be peeled before use. Very important. Smells good, too.
    [at a ginger root bin] Most American cooks are familiar with mature ginger, like this small, almost delicate hand from Hawaii or, say, this big, clunking baseball mitt of a hand from Costa Rica. This is enough for about a year. Now keep in mind that mature rhizomes have a far more fibrous flesh. [gingerbread man-doll appears, and looks on from afar] And of course the flavor is a bit more fiery. So this would be really, really good for, say, grating into a dish. But for, say, stir fries, you're probably going to want to stick with the younger variety.

GBM: [waddles into the background]

    Now the skin on this guy [the young ginger], very thin. So you're going to want to wrap this in plastic and stash in your refrigerator. This, however [the mature ginger], has a nice, thick, almost bark-y skin on it, which is all the covering it needs, so just stick this directly into your refrigerator crisper drawer. No plastic or it'll grow mold. And as we all know, mold is only good eats on cheese.

Chinese Restaurant / The Kitchen

    [eating] Mmm. Ginger is a frequent player on plates across Asia, but in China it is all but ubiquitous. Because in that culture, remember, that foods are either considered cooling, yin, or warming, yang. And no food is more yang than ginger, which is often used to balance the lesser attributes of certain foods, say, the gaminess of duck or the fishiness of seafood. But in that part of the world, the line between meal and medicine is often blurred. In fact, Confucius recommended taking ginger every single day to ensure health and longevity. Why?
    [passes through a door to reveal the kitchen] Well, it's believed that the chemical compounds responsible for ginger's unique flavor and aroma also place it high up on the eastern medicine cabinet hierarchy. Things like phellandrene, citral, linalool, and gingerol are thought to calm heads, heal hearts, cure athlete's foot, and even cancer. And let us not forget, it is commonly held that ginger can calm the malevolent maelstrom of sensations known as motion sickness. More on that one later.
    Now let's talk forms. [AB looks through the drawers of an apothecary chest] We've already looked at the raw rhizome, But one of my, ah, favorite forms is preserved gingerginger that has literally been cured, or candied in sugar. It is almost as easy to make as it is to buy. Let's try.

    We begin with one pound of ginger. Now fiber is not a friend of this application, so if you can find Hawaiian or Australian ginger, use that. If not, you might want to look for young ginger from the Philippines or maybe Taiwan. Anything with a light, smooth skin will be best. 1 Pound Ginger

    Now peel, either with a vegetable peeler or just a spoon, or even a paring knife. I want to get this all down into eighth-inch slices. And the best tool for that is a mandoline. I like this little Japanese number. It is sharp. It is easy to use, and cheaper than takuyaki [Japanese octopus balls] in Roppongi [a district of Minato, Tokyo, Japan]. The only downside, this childish little hand guard. But I don't need it because I've got a Kevlar glove, available online, and at many of your finer kitchen stores. Now we slice. Good, now to the cook top.

    The ginger goes into a four-quart saucepan. Get it all in there along with five cups of water. Now we're going to bring that just to a boil over medium-high heat. Now reduce the heat, and cook for 35 minutes, or until the ginger is just tender. Then, and this is kind of funny, reserve a quarter cup of the liquid. Then drain the ginger thoroughly and weigh it. Once you've got it weighed, add an equal weight of plain old sugar. There. 5 Cups Water

Equal Weight of Sugar

    Now this is going to go right back into the original pot. There we go, along with the quarter cup of water, and I'm just going to use that to kind of clean out the sugar that was left behind. There. Now this is going to go over medium-high heat. I'm going to bring it to a boil, stirring frequently if not constantly. Cup Reserved Cooking Liquid

    Now over time the water will slowly evaporate, and the sugar will crystallize back out, until you've basically got a solid, something that looks like, well, frosted flakes if you ask me. Spread that on a well-lubed cooling sheet and allow to rest for about an hour.

    [AB tastes the ginger] Mmm, delicious. Now, as soon as these are completely cool, store in an airtight vessel such as a plastic tub, which I would line with a little paper toweling to help absorb any errant moisture. And I would avoid zip-top bags, which can encourage condensation wherever they touch food. And in this case, with this much sugar, condensation would lead to floppy gingernot good eats. Speaking of Good Eats, make sure you retain ownership over the sugar that dropped down onto the pan. Very good in coffee or sprinkled onto cookies.

In Medieval Europe, a popular confection called gingerbras
was composed of ginger boiled with honey and breadcrumbs.

The Kitchen

    Well, now that we have plenty of candied or crystallized ginger, what do we do with it? Well, it is ideal in baking. But it's also darn tasty on ice cream, breakfast cereal, believe it or not, salads and, well, gosh darn it, out-of-hand eating. Which reminds me, ginger has long been hailed as a folk remedy for the nasty nausea of motion sickness. Skeptical? Me, too, which is why we built the Vomitron.
    [shows a tall, cylinder-like object, big enough a person to sit in] What do you think? Pretty sweet, huh? Actually, the technical term is optokinetic drum. But since we souped it up with some strobe lights, we like to call it the Vomitron. It is specifically designed to create in the victimI'm sorry, test subjectthe circumstances that lead to motion sickness. That is, when visual information from the eyes, vestibular data from the inner ear, and kinetic information from the body clash in the brain. All you have to do is get in. Come on. Come on. Come on over, give it a test. It's fun. Oh, don't be a baby. Come on. Come on. Do it. Just hop in. Oh, do it for science. Come on. Hop on in. It's a comfy chair. There you go. All right. Now I'm just, uh, I'm just going to close the door here, and then I want you to look straight ahead, okay? You ready? All right, here we go. Here we go. Activate the machine. [the cylinder rotates, strobe lights flash, machinery noises are heard]
    Okay, just stop machine. Let's get you unlocked. Hey, how was your ride? You don't look so good. Um, here, let me, let me help you. Just step right out. Easy, easy, easy, easy, easy. Here, here. Sit down right here. Just, just sit. There. Now let me have a look. Oh, no, put your head down. Put your head down. Look, just, just in case ... [puts a bucket in front of "us"] There. There. Maybe, um, maybe, let me take that. I'll take that. [takes the camera] Yeah. Yeah, don't worry.
    Now I ate some of our preserved ginger a while ago, so hopefully I will be completely immune to the voodoo of the Vomitron. Of course, there's only one way to find out, so I'll just get in here, and we'll go ahead and start that machine right up. And ... okay. Heh heh heh heh.
    Well, part of my brain is definitely trying to tell me I'm moving, while the other says I'm not moving. And that could definitely cause some problems. But I'm, I'm feeling good. You know, researchers have yet to discover exactly how ginger does what it supposedly does. But it has been suggested that the nausea of motion sickness is caused by an interruption of normal stomach cycles which are set in motion by something called the cephalic vagal reflex. Now certain chemicals in ginger, like gingerol, can boost those reflexes, keeping the cycles in check. Okay, you can stop this thing!

In the early days of commercial aviation, ginger snaps
were often served during turbulence.

    Ginger cookies are the order of the day, and we will assemble them via the creaming method. That means, of course, that we beat the solid fat and sugar together first. In our case, that would be five ouncesthat's one and a quarter sticksof room-temperature butter. Okay, room temperature. I'm going to say between 68 and 72 degrees, okay. No warmer, no colder. Now that goes into the bowl, along with seven ounces by weight of dark brown sugar. Install your paddle attachment, and beat on low until it's light and fluffy, about two minutes. 5 Ounces Unsalted Butter,
    Room Temperature
7 Ounces Dark Brown Sugar

    Now why would it become lighter and fluffier? Well, as it works, those sugar crystals are cutting little bubble-shaped enclaves into the butter, lightening it. This is important. You don't want to chintz out on this time, because each one of those bubbles will be blown up by steam and CO2 from our chemical leavening during the cooking process. If you don't cream enough, you're never going to have the right texture. Now let's get the wet works.

    We will require some sweetener with some liquid. Three ounces by weight of molasses should do the trick. We'll also need one egg from a chicken, large, like this. Perfect. And some fresh ginger. Two teaspoons that we will grate off of this hand.
    Now when it comes to grating, a lot of people reach for a device like this [microplane grater], which uses little bitty blades to cut small pieces. I want to leave the pulp behind, so I'm going with a real ginger grater. But they're very hard to clean, so I'm going to cover it with a little plastic wrap first. Yes, it's going to take a little time, but it's good exercise. [shows that the grated ginger all sticks to the plastic wrap] There, no mess. And everything's ready to use.

    Everything goes in with the mixer on medium. Fully integrate before bringing anything dry to the party. 1 Large Egg, Room
3 Ounces Molasses, By
2 tsp. Grated Fresh Ginger
    Speaking of, we want to combine nine and a half ounces by weight of all-purpose flour with one and a half teaspoons of baking soda. That'll provide some lift. Then half a teaspoon each of kosher salt. There you go. Ground cardamom, very powerful stuff. And clove. And we're also going to need one tablespoon of ... oh, wait a minute. 9 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp. Baking Soda
tsp. Kosher Salt
tsp. Ground Cardamom
tsp. Ground Clove

    [back at the apothecary chest] I suspect that most American cooks, bakers at least, are familiar with ground dried ginger. Although some quality examples are available from specialty purveyors, the magical molecules that grant ginger its zing are fleeting. So I would rather buy dried chunks or slices, which remain viable for months, if not years, ... ah ... and grind them myself.
    Now depending on the general shape and size, it should take a piece about like this [shows a piece about an inch by one and a half inches] to give us the tablespoon that we require.

    Now you could certainly do this with a standard bar blender, but I've got a laboratory pulverizer, so of course I'm going to use that. It's just, uh, it'll go a little bit faster, but it'll also be a heck of a lot louder. No matter what you use, you're probably going to have a couple little chunks of solid ginger left, and that's okay. There, we have our tablespoon, nice and fragrant. Now fully integrate [with the flour] that before bringing it to the mixer. Oh, and before we even add that, I'm going to add four ounces of finely chopped candied ginger just to make this even more gingery. 1 Tbs. Ground Ginger

4 Ounces Candied Ginger,
    Finely Chopped

    When it comes time to bring in the dry stuff, do it in doses, nice and slowly, so it has time to integrate. I like to use a paper plate. Good tool.

Ginger comes from a Sanskrit word meaning "horn root".

The Kitchen

GUEST: Miniature Gingerbread Man

    There. Now if I'm careful with my dosing, I bet I can get about four dozen gingersnap cookies out of this. Gingersnaps, of course, small cookie, only about two inches across. Usually, I'd say two teaspoons in volume. So I'm going to use a disher for that. Go ahead and set the oven to 350 degrees, and I'm just going to do two racks at a time. Of course, this stuff is pretty sticky, so we'll apply parchment paper. That'll keep things nice and neat.

350 Degrees

    Now they do spread a bit, so I'm just going to go 12 per pan, providing about two inches of clearance on every side. I'm only going to bake off two dozen of these, but I am going to go ahead and dose out the rest, freeze them on the pans, and then put them in a zip-top in the freezer for later cooking. Oh, by the way, you may see some things that look like hairs. Don't worry. They're not. It's just a few ginger fibers. It'll be okay.
    [at the oven] Position two racks as close to the center of the oven as possible and bake for 12 minutes for ever so slightly chewy cookies, and 15 for nice and crispy cookies. And if your oven has any reputation at all for uneven cooking, you'll want to rotate these pans halfway through the baking process.

GBM: [pokes his head into view and looks in the oven]
AB: What? Oh, all right. We'll make you a little buddy.

    To do that, we'll need to turn our batter into a real stiff dough by adding another cup of flour right after all the other ingredients have been integrated. That will tighten it up quite a bit. Now we're going to need three pieces. So tear off one-third for the head, then a quarter of the remainder for the arms, and the rest for, well, you know, the rest. Now, we'll start by shaping the head. [with great difficulty and a few tools he shapes a gingerbread man out of the dough about the size of his sheet pan] A fair likeness, if I don't say so myself. Now into the very same 350-degree oven.
    Ahh. One of the nicest things about baking with ginger is that it "'stinks up' the house real pretty," as my grandfather used to say. Let's check on those cookies. [opens the oven door]

MINIATURE GINGERBREAD MAN: [pops out of the oven]


MGBM: [comes to come to life, looks around, runs off camera]
AB: Hey! Hey!
MGBM: [runs out the kitchen door]
AB: [in pursuit] Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, come back here, you little ... hey, don't go in the street, you'll get ... [car horn sounds, and tires squeal. A mass of broken cookies is thrown back on AB]

    [picks up a piece of the MGBM's arm] Well ... [takes a bite] Mmm, well, the flavor certainly is ... "disarming". Huh.

Gingerbread men were created for the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

    Extraction. Kill your oven and make sure that the cookies cool on their pans for at least 30 seconds before you remove them. That'll make sure that the outer starch manages to set up a bit.
    Now if you're feeling really ambitious, right before these go in the oven, you could sprinkle on a little of the ginger sugar from before and you would end up with a cookie that looks like this, which would be a very nice thing.
    Now if you plan on sitting around munching ginger cookies all afternoon the way I do, you might want a beverage, a lovely beverage, say, ginger ale?
    [at the pantry full of ViewMasters, he begins to look through them] Up until the mid 19th century, beer was the everyday drink of Britain. But besides grain-based beers, special low-alcohol or "small beers" were brewed with aromatics such as spruce.. ah ... and ginger, which, by the 18th century, was being imported from Jamaica, Mon.


    Originally, ginger beers contained around 11% alcohol. But the Excise Act of 1855 slapped a tax on brewed beverages containing more than 2%. So manufacturers started diluting ginger beer with a variety of substances including more ginger. And thus, the age of the soft drink was born. Now due to the presence of gingerol, ginger ale was both warming and refreshing, characteristics most appreciated by denizens of the British Isles.


The Kitchen

    Today, a handful of regional ginger ales are still brewed. But if you really want the real thing, you're going to have to take matters into your own hands.

Traditional ginger beers are cloudy, while ginger ales are clear.

The Kitchen

    And now it's time to make the ginger ale. Six ounces of sugar goes into a small saucepan, along with one and a half ounces of freshly grated ginger, and a mere half cup of water. Now slap that over heat, we'll say medium-high, and stir until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Then kill the heat, cover, and allow to steep for one hour. 6 Ounces Sugar
1 Ounces Fresh Ginger,
Cup Water

    Now we're going to want to cool that down, so you might want to prepare an ice bath with a couple of bowls and a strainer. Pour off the extract, getting rid of all of the solids. We won't be needing those.

    Now with that in hand, we're ready for the bottling process. Get yourself a nice clean two-liter pop bottle and a funnel; that'll make things easier. One eighth teaspoon of active dry yeast goes in followed by our cooled syrup. Then two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, because we're going to need a little bit of acidity, and finally, seven cups of good water. Filtered would be best, bottled would be okay. Cap it up, and give it a shake to dissolve all of that yeast. Wake up in there. ⅛ tsp. Active Dry Yeast
2 Tbs. Freshly Squeezed
    Lemon Juice
7 Cups Water

    Now this needs to ferment, so find a nice, quiet, cool place to stash it. Wait a second, that needs a new label. [replaces the label on the generic bottle] Better. We'll park that for 48 hours.



    [slowly opens the bottle, which makes a hissing sound] Ahhh, music to my thirsty ears. And I promise you, it will be music on your palate as well, if there is such a thing.
    Now at this point, we want to stop the fermentation. The flavor's where we want it. And if we let it go unchecked, well, we could have an explosive situation on our hands. Moving this to the refrigerator will certainly slow down the metabolism of the little beasties and that'll keep things safe and sound. But still, well, it is a home-fermented product. So, I'd open the bottle once, maybe twice a day, to let out excess gas. But believe me, once you get a taste, the idea of opening it every day won't be a problem. Trust me.

AB: [serves the GBM a glass of ginger ale] Cheers. Hah hah!

    Well, I hope that we've opened your eyes, mouth and minds to the unique and uniquely satisfying culinary possibilities presented by the world's most fascinating rhizome.

AB: [to GBM] Of course, it's too late for you, really, since you're already baked. But don't worry, we can take you for a spin in the food processor and rebuild you as a nice cheesecake crust.
GBM: [gets scarred and runs off]
AB: Hah hah hah! Oh, sure, go ahead. Run! Run as fast as you can. You won't be able to escape the Good Eats man. Bwah hah hah hah! Come back here, you naughty little cookie!

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010