Saturday, November 5, 2016

Gingembre – Ginger, the Spice. Ginger is very important in French Cuisine, and Gingerbread is Very Popular.

Behind the French menu
Bryan G. Newman

A large sized ginger root.
I think someone super-sized this one
Gingembre  – Ginger, the spice.  I, like many of my contemporaries,  had always thought that ginger was the root of the plant. Then, I learned that the ginger we see in a market is a rhizome and a rhizome, my best beloved, is the subterranean stem of a plant that sends out the roots and not the root itself.. The French word for a rhizome is rhizome, the same as in English, and according to, the origin is Latin. So the French make the same mistake we do as and call the rhizome a root, a racine de gingembre.   Therefore, in a French market, or an English one, few would know what I am talking about if I asked for a ginger rhizome, so I shall continue to call the rhizome  a root in this post.
Ginger in French recipes
The ginger root holds 90% of the plants ginger flavor and when cut the root releases a pungent aroma and the flavor is tasty but sharp and spicy. Cooked the aroma and the sharpness and spiciness drops considerably and that is the ginger taste that most of us like.   The ginger plant’s leaves have a light ginger kick and a lighter flavor, but it is only used in those countries where ginger is grown. Many people buy ground ginger; it will have lost some of the pungency of the fresh root and that is perfectly OK for sauces, soups, ice creams and pastries. French chefs who want the kick and flavor that comes from the fresh root will buy it whole and then grind and dry their own powdered ginger as required for their pastries etc.

Ginger leaves.
Tens of  French recipes use ginger and pain d'épices, gingerbread, is as elsewhere,  a food decoration staple. The gingerbread of Dijon, France, is as famous in France as its mustard is internationally. 

Gingerbread house.
Ginger is also part of the French spice group called the Quatre Épices or Épice Parisienne, the four spices group. This is the oldest French spice group still in use. The group always includes poivre, pepper, noix de muscade, nutmeg, and clous de girofle, cloves. The disputed fourth was originally gingembre, ginger or Cannelle, Chinese cinnamon. Today, Chinese cinnamon is usually replaced by cannelle de Ceylon, Ceylonese cinnamon, with Ginger remaining as a fifth member of the group.  Fresh ginger will be in many French meat, seafood and fish dishes that require extended cooking times, as that reduces the spice’s pungency. The less pungent dried, ground ginger will be in soups, sauces, cakes, biscuits, ice-creams and more.

Ginger on French menus:

Calamar Grillé Dans une Sauce Tomate Fraîche Relevée au Gingembre et PimentCalamari grilled and served with a fresh tomato sauce with ginger and hot pepper accents.

Trout with ginger, peppers, and spring onions.
Crème Brûlée au Pain d'Épices – Crème brulée prepared with gingerbread. Gingerbread in French is pain d'épice; that translates as spicy bread.

Ginger Jam from the UK

Dos de Sandre Rôti sur Peau, Jus Court au Gingembre et au Citron Vert – A large cut from pike-perch, zander, the fish, roasted in its skin and served with a court bouillon flavored with ginger and limes

Filet Mignon de Cochon Rôti au Beurre Mousseux et Gingembre Frais au Miel de Pays – A cut from the pork filet, the pork tenderloin, roasted and served with a lightly whipped melted butter prepared with fresh ginger and local honey. N.B. A filet mignon in France is always pork unless the menu explicitly notes veal or beef. The American Filet Mignon is a French Filet de Boeuf.

Purée Chaude de Poire avec Chocolat au Gingembre – Hot pear puree served with chocolate and ginger.

Tartare de Thon Frais au Mangues et GingembreFresh tuna tartar flavored with mango and ginger.

Beef fillet served with carrot-ginger puree.
Growing up in the UK I loved ginger beer which is alcohol-free; unfortunately, ginger beer is no longer so popular, and so when I visit the UK I really have to look for it. I have seen imported ginger beer in France, but its not my favorite brand.  For those who want to buy Ginger beer in France ask for a bière de gingembre; I believe the brand I saw was a Jamaican import.  Historically, some alcoholic beers did use ginger.  I am also fairly sure that the Belgians must make at least one of their hundreds of different alcoholic beers with ginger, even if I haven’t seen one.

Ginger ale from the USA  is another non-alcoholic soft drink made with ginger.  The Ginger Ale I saw in a large French supermarket was imported Canada Dry.

Ginger originated in Southern China, and it is now part of the spice cupboard in nearly every country in the world. Nevertheless ginger does not grow everywhere;  ginger needs a warm climate and so it is grown in Asia and South America, with 50% of the world’s supply of ginger coming from India

When I travel, I receive huge amounts of information on herbs and spices in the markets I visit.  Early on, I learned to double-check my information on Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages and or Eric Schoenzetter’s  Toil'd'épice. Both gave me permission to use and quote their websites.  Not every French chef or purveyor of spices can differentiate between some of the old-wives tails and the real history and origins of the herbs and spices they work with.

Ginger Cake
Ginger in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan - gingebre, gengibre), (Dutch - gember, djahe),(German – ingwer), (Italian -  zenzero, pepe zenzero),  (Spanish – jengibre, ingever).

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Bryan G. Newman

Copyright 2010, 2016.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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