Pickled ginger is well-known as an accompaniment to sushi where is it known in sushi shop jargon as “gari” (otherwise it is called “beni-shōga); it is eaten to refresh the palate and also has antiseptic properties. It also goes well with grilled items, e.g. grilled fish (especially oily fish since ginger helps to cut the oiliness) or grilled beef. It is easy to make at home if you can find young ginger.
Young ginger can be found sometimes at Asian farmer’s market stands in the spring through early fall and sometimes at Asian markets. It is currently still available in the Bay area even though it is already early October. It is distinguishable from the brown-skinned mature ginger by its pinkish stems and tips, very thin translucent skin, and creamy white color. Often it still has all or part of the green stem still attached. The best young ginger has tender bright green sprouting leaves and long slender stalks with a pink blush at the bottom.
My recipe below is for a very small quantity of pickled ginger, about 1/2 cup (1 small jar) made from 1 large clump of ginger (2.75 oz, measured with the stalks removed. It is the amount of ginger shown in the picture above). This quantity is good for those that want to try making pickled ginger at home and want to be able to eat it up quickly. Hiroko Shimbo’s recipe on her website lists the ingredient quantities to use for a large batch (14 oz of young ginger).
Source: Modified from “Japanese Sweet Pickled Ginger (Gari)” from “The Sushi Experience” by Hiroko Shimbo. Also referenced “Vinegared Ginger (Sushōga or Gari)” from “Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art” by Shizuo Tsuji and “Japanese Pickled Ginger (Gari) Recipe” by Andrea Nguyen from VietWorldKitchen.com.
Japanese Pickled Ginger (Gari)
- 2.75 oz young ginger (1 large clump or a few small ones, size is shown in picture above)
- 1 Tbsp + 2 tsp rice vinegar (komezu)
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 2-1/4 tsp water
- 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- Japanese mandoline or the ability to make paper-thin slices using a knife or other tool
- Heat-proof small jar with a tight-fitting lid
Have a heat-proof jar ready.
Bring a pot of water to a simmer and keep it at a simmer.
Mix rice vinegar, water, salt, and sugar in a small sauce pan. Set aside.
Use a knife to separate the knobs of ginger so that they are easy to clean and slice. Young ginger does not need to be peeled since the skin is very thin, but you should tear off the papery pieces of skin by grabbing them between your thumb and a spoon and gently tearing them off or use a hard brush to scrub them off. Rinse any dirt off the ginger. Slice lengthwise (along the grain, not across the grain) with a Japanese mandoline into paper-thin sheets about 2 inches long. They should be nearly see-through
Bring the rice vinegar mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Turn off heat. Reheat it later if necessary; it should be warm when you add it to the ginger.
Add the ginger slices all at once into the boiling water. Cook for 20 seconds (over boiling will make the ginger limp). Drain the slices in a colander. Shake to remove as much water as possible.
While the ginger slices are still hot, place the ginger into the heat-proof jar. Pour the hot vinegar marinade into the jar. Submerge the ginger slices in the liquid (if there isn’t enough liquid, then add an additional tablespoon or two of rice vinegar or you can double the quantity of the marinade). The ginger may immediately turn a faint pink (it will be a very faint pink; the vividly pink colored pickled ginger is dyed). It turns pink because young ginger contains anthocyanins which react with the acid in vinegar. Though sometimes this doesn’t happen and it may remain pale yellow; the flavor is not affected and it will taste just as good.
Let cool uncovered, and then cap and refrigerate.
It tastes best after it has marinated somewhere between overnight and 2 days, though you can eat it at any time. It keeps in the refrigerator for to three weeks to several months (it can be frozen for longer storage). You can keep the marinade almost indefinitely; add new blanched ginger slices to the same liquid to replenish your supply. The marinade is also delicious and can be used to season other dishes.
Additional Notes: You can substitute mature ginger in this recipe. Boil the mature ginger for 40 seconds or until the slices are translucent.