While some of my coworkers use their kitchens as at-home culinary labs, mine is definitely more low-tech. The wares from my pantry could be described as Little House on the Prairie meets the 21st century: tomato-port jam and jalapeño pepper jelly, a blushing red onion marmalade, turmeric-laced zucchini pickles. My philosophy: Why buy it if you can make it (and make it better)?
However, it didn’t occur to me to make my own candied ginger until I was hit with sticker shock at my local specialty-foods store ($10 for 3 ounces? and don’t even try to find it at your nearby supermarket). While I was staring in disbelief at the package, I let my eyes wander to the ingredient list: ginger, sugar. Simple enough. So I walked over to the produce aisle, dropped the gnarly rhizome in my basket, and set to work.
For just a few dollars and in just a few short hours (the majority of it hands-off), I had a half-pound of glimmering, spicy-sweet ginger coins. Unsurprisingly, starting with the fresh stuff amps up the peppery heat, proving that not only is store-bought candied ginger overpriced, but also tame.
Now, if I want to toss a handful of my new favorite staple into homemade granola, crumble topping, or mashed sweet potatoes, all I have to do is open my pantry door.
Sugar and ginger—that’s it. Most markets carry ginger in its mature form (pictured here), but if you’re looking for a little less bite, seek out young ginger, also called spring ginger (Asian markets often carry it). You’ll know it by its thin, nearly translucent skin.
I like to use a spoon to peel ginger: Its edge removes the skin just as well as a peeler or a knife, but it’s easier to navigate around all of the bumps and knobs.
Start by making a simple syrup—equal parts water and sugar. This is the “glue” that will eventually bind the sugar to the slices. Next, add the sliced ginger, and cook until about 30 minutes or until tender.
Instead of draining over the sink, place a large container (like a 4-cup measuring cup or a bowl) underneath. This allows you to capture the ginger-infused syrup and refrigerate it for later use. I’ve made mock ginger ale when I just wanted a glass, and it goes great with rum.
It’s important to spread the ginger in a single layer and allow it to dry completely, at least 5 hours (it will still be tacky to the touch). The first time I tried to make candied ginger, I was in a rush and tossed the slices with sugar after an hour—big mistake. The sugar melted into the ginger instead of sticking to the surface, creating a sticky, gooey mess.
And now, the moment of truth: Add sugar to the bowl, and toss or stir until the slices are completely covered. It’s OK if you end up with extra sugar in the bottom of the bowl—you can save that to flavor tea or sprinkle on top of cookies.
Stored in an airtight container, the candied ginger should keep for a few weeks… unless, like me, you keep a stash at work at arm’s length. Good thing this recipe easily doubles.