Recently I was lucky enough to come upon young ginger for sale at Marukai — a local Japanese market. Now, when I say “young ginger,” I don’t just mean “really fresh ginger” — like you might find at a regular supermarket. Young ginger, or shin shoga (shin = new, shoga = ginger), still has its pinkish buds (see photo) and is considerably less fibrous than the ginger you find at a regular market. The two most common ginger pickles are gari, the pale pink sliced ginger usually served with sushi, and beni shoga, the bright red matchstick-cut ginger often served with yaki soba and okonomiyaki. Not one to pass up an opportunity to try my hand at a new pickle, I cracked open my trusty copy of Quick and Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes (by Ikuko Hisamatsu). Below is an adaptation of the “Young Ginger in Sweet Vinegar” recipe. The book says the best time to eat the ginger is two to three days after pickling, but I just tried mine and plan to wait a few more days for it to mellow out.
Pickled Ginger (gari / Shin-shoga Amazu-zuke)
2 decent-sized pieces of young ginger (~7 oz/200 g)
1 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 tsp salt (+ additional pinch)
equipment: mason jar (to store pickle when done)
patience level: kindergarten
Wash and scrape or peel ginger root. Cut into 1.5- to 2-inch chunks, then slice lengthwise as thinly as possible and set aside.
Mix together and heat the rice vinegar, sugar and 2/3 teaspoon salt until everything has dissolved. Set aside to cool.
Sterilize a 1 quart mason jar. (The jar doesn’t have to be sterile, unless you plan to keep the ginger for more than a few days.)
Bring a pot of water to boil, and add a generous pinch of salt. Briefly boil ginger slices, (30 seconds or so) then drain. Once vinegar mixture has cooled down (it can still be warm, just not hot), pack ginger into sterilized mason jar, and pour vinegar mixture over it to cover. Marinate for at least 30 minutes. Best enjoyed within a few days, though it keeps indefinitely.
Note that gari pickled ginger will naturally turn pale pink due to a chemical reaction. (I’m still trying to find the details.) Bright red beni shoga, on the other hand, derives its color from the red brine it is pickled in. (This, in turn, gets its color from the red shiso [perilla] leaves used to make it — sometimes with some help from Red Dye #40.)
Pauline Fujita lives in Santa Cruz, California. A biologist by trade and a glutton at heart, she’s especially interested in Japanese and Japanese influenced food.