Chat Leftovers: Peeling Ginger and "Lost" Cuisine

As is often the case, there are too many questions and not enough time to answer all the questions in the What's Cooking queue. Below, a few that grabbed my attention after this week's show.

Arlington, Va.: What's the deal with peeling ginger? Is it for aesthetic purposes? I usually take off any loose bits that I can find in under five seconds, but otherwise the skin is left intact. It doesn't have a texture, and as far as I can tell it doesn't have a taste, so why bother?

Although it may be flavorless, I don't entirely agree with your argument that ginger skin is without texture issues. Sometimes you get a thin-skinned piece, smooth and easy-going down the hatch; other times, luck fails and your hunky chunk is sealed with an impenetrable armor that requires an engineering degree for successful removal.

Those who grew up in places where ginger grows and/or figures prominently in the cuisine -- China, India, Indonesia, Japan, West Africa, West Indies -- are likely to be more accustomed to ginger, skin and all, particularly if it's finely chopped. However, when a recipe calls for mashed ginger -- accomplished by using a mortar and pestle -- the skin, which refuses to become pulverized, needs to come off.

In that case, we go back to the original question: What's the deal with peeling ginger? Or, as I like to think of it, how do I peel ginger effortlessly and efficiently?

Forget the vegetable peeler. This job calls for a teaspoon. Determine how much ginger you need and with a paring knife, slice off your hunk. Trim off any oversized nobs as well. Hold the hunk in the palm of your hand, then with your other hand, use the tip of the spoon to scrape away at the skin. You'll have a pristine hunk in mere seconds.

Silver Spring, Md.: I am having a small gathering of friends to watch the premiere of "Lost" next week. We are big fans of "themed" foods and I thought I would do a fish dish with some kind of tropical-fruit garnish. I was just told that a couple of the guests do not like tropical-fruit garnishes on their fish. I still would like to prepare fish, but am looking for a "tropical" way to prepare it that does not involve pineapples, mangoes, etc. Any thoughts?

I consulted "Lost" addict and celebritologist Liz Kelly for advice, as I stopped watching after the very first episode. (Plane crash, right?) Here's what she had to say:

I'd suggest something Hawaiian, since that's where "Lost" is filmed. There was also an episode in which beer figured prominently. Maybe there's a good Hawaiian beer? Hmmm... they also eat a lot of fish -- perhaps something available in Pacific waters?

Since Liz is a vegetarian, I'll take care of the fish part. If your friends are against tropical-fruit garnish, what about grilled fish kebabs instead? Fish caught from Pacific waters that are both kebab-friendly and environmentally sustainable (according to Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program) include: steaky halibut, swordfish and mahi-mahi, the Hawaiian word for dorado and dolphinfish.

Line up your fish chunks on a skewer and marinate them in olive oil, a smidge of lime juice (not too much), cayenne, salt and a bit of ginger. You might want to insert bell pepper chunks or pearl onions between fish chunks to keep them separate and distinct.

Meanwhile, you can steam a pot of rice, made with half water and half coconut milk for a truly tropical twist (a garnish of chopped macadamias would be luscious). With regards to the pineapple, you can't NOT have pineapple at a Hawaiian-style gathering. Two of my favorite ways to eat this most precious fruit are a spicy, pungent salad, done Thai-style, and a Malaysian spiced pineapple pickle.

As for Hawaiian suds, anyone ever have Kona, a microbrew from Big Island?

Ideas welcome here, particularly if you've traveled to or hail from Hawaii.

And here's the last word from a reader who weighed in on the thread about handling frozen fruit in baked goods:

Kim, I don't question your expertise for a moment -- that's why you're here -- but my experience with baked goods using frozen fruit has been different from yours. Perhaps it depends on what you are baking. For pies, I use frozen fruit in its frozen state. Many packages (and a couple cookbooks I've consulted) recommend NOT thawing fruit for pies. I make blueberry pie in the winter b/c it is my dearest's fave -- I use frozen wild blueberries, tossed with the spices, sugar and tapioca while frozen. Comes out perfectly every time. The pie will be soggy if the berries are thawed first. The person who posted the question might want to read the packages, or a baking book, or experiment.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 23, 2008; 10:43 AM ET Chat Leftovers
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And for dessert, I saw a recipe for pineapple granite on Chowhound. It was the flesh of one pineapple and 3/4 cup sugar blended in a food processor and poured into a 9 X 13 pan and frozen, then stirred up with a fork and frozen again, etc.

Posted by: Fran | January 23, 2008 12:07 PM

For the "Lost" host: If you are looking to serve a second entree for your guests, in case any do not like fish, how about some kind of pork? Maybe a tenderloin? It could harken back to season one when they killed the boar. For dessert consider serving something peanut butter related in honor of Charlie and Claire.

Sounds like a fun party. Can I come?

Posted by: Arlington Biscotti Girl | January 23, 2008 12:17 PM

I concur on frozen fruit in pies - in fact, it's the way I make 80% of my pies now. I buy lots of fresh apples or peaches in season, prep them as for pies, and mix the filling in an aluminum pie plate (sugar, lemon juice, tapioca because I hate the texture of cornstarch in pies). Then I freeze the pie plate. When it's hard, I pop it out of the aluminum pie pan and store in a gallon ziplock freezer bag. To bake, make a double crust, put the pie filling in the middle, and bake as usual - it takes a bit longer than fresh fruit, but still comes out delicious. Voila! Fresh peach pie in January :-)

Posted by: frozen fruit | January 23, 2008 2:24 PM

Hello Kim

Halibut from Hawaiian waters? I've been here a quarter century, and I've never seen it. The halibut I buy (Costco) comes from Alaskan waters. I think mahi would probably break up on skewers, but swordfish will work. How bout a Malaysian / Indonesian peanut-based dipping sauce? Poi chips with salsa to start.

Posted by: David Lewiston | January 23, 2008 3:57 PM

another thought on peeling ginger - i like to use grapefruit spoons, the ones with the serrated edges. gives maybe a bit more power than a regular spoon.

Posted by: gansie | January 23, 2008 4:00 PM

David, I'm glad you chimed in, hoping you would. But to clarify: It's not I who cites Hawaiian halibut, but the folks on the Mont. Bay Aquarium site. I have had Pacific halibut from Pacific, most likely from Oregon. Halibut works beautifully on skewers, by the way. I like the idea of a peanut sauce...or even an herby cilantro. Please send some poi chips this way.
Fran, I like your style. Dessert, but of course! Upside down pineapple cake, or what about a fluffy white coconut cake?
Gansie, the last time I saw a grapefruit spoon was in the kitchen of my youth. I can still see the ridges. Do they still make those things?

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | January 23, 2008 4:07 PM

I don't like to mix sweet or fruity flavors with my seafood either - I'd go tropical Jamaica style and grill or broil some jerk tuna, jerk swordfish, and/or jerk chicken kabobs, and serve with bottles of Red Stripe.

I don't like some store bought jerk sauces because they're more sweet than spicy. If you prefer the latter, the McCormick dry Caribbean Jerk spice blend is actually quite good - I like to make a marinade with it (3 tbsp. spice mix, 3 tbsp oil, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar; add a tbsp of brown sugar if you want to mellow it out a little). My favorite though, if you can find it, is Walkerswood brand Traditional Jerk Seasoning - that stuff will fire you up. It's made in Jamaica, so you might need a specialty market that sells Caribbean products, though I think I have seen it in a regular grocery store on occasion.

Posted by: Rosslyn | January 23, 2008 5:31 PM

Hello Kim,

Just asked Google, and found out that Taro chips are available from Busy Bees Enterprises at a ridiculously high price, 12 4 oz packages for $53 plus $19 s/h. Ouch! I can eat a pound at a sitting.

Dessert? The Thai favourite, mango & sticky rice. Or coconut ice cream, another Thai favourite. Or coconut tapioca pudding with tropical fruit salad. Or a Hawaiian dessert like haupia.

Posted by: David Le | January 23, 2008 7:25 PM

You can find Walkerswood jerk seasoning at World Market - very happy to find it in the States after visiting the Walkerswood Plantation a couple years ago!

Posted by: Walkerswood | January 24, 2008 9:07 AM

I use the sharp sides of my teaspoon to peel the ginger--works great. If you can ever find freshly dug ginger, the skin is still translucent and it smells wonderful...

Another Lost theme idea would be for people to bring their "deserted island" food--you know, the one food they could not live without. You'd get quite a hodgepodge though.

Posted by: ishot | January 24, 2008 12:33 PM

Stop the press! If you want a LOST theme, you should seriously make shrimp like the "shrimp trucks" on Oahu's north shore. Sawyer even stopped at a shrimp truck before he killed that guy. It is really just shrimp scampi with TONS of garlic and a big scoop of rice to catch all those garlic juices. I don't have a recipe, but try to google "north shore shrimp truck"

Posted by: hawaii girl | January 24, 2008 2:42 PM

I actually just found the serrated grapefruit spoons at Crate and Barrel. I hadn't seen them in forever either but they are handy!

Posted by: Kelly | January 27, 2008 5:13 PM

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