Saturday, December 7, 2013

Ginger Beer Starter

I was reading the Sour Tonic Beverage chapter in The Art of Fermentation on the plane to DC and one of the things that stuck out in my mind was something he called "Ginger Beer with Ginger Bug."   The Ginger Beer is the resulting beverage, and the Ginger Bug is the starter, or probably more accurately the unique combination of yeast and bacteria that populate the surface of ginger roots; which you feed and propagate into the starter; which you feed and propagate into the Ginger Beer.

I went to an Asian grocery that I have driven past many times but never visited to acquire the ginger.  While perusing the isles, I came upon palm sugar which I decided to get as the fermentable portion of this concoction.  It has a roast-y caramel-y taste, which combined with the smooth but grainy texture reminds me of some of my past attempts to make caramel corn topping that crystallized.  It is formed into little half-rounds that must be the shape of some cooling tray it was poured into during processing.  Perhaps it no longer needs to be made that way, but hey, that's how palm sugar comes...

I also bought several pounds of ginger, and I have my fingers crossed, since Katz mentions his suspicions that much of the ginger that comes into the US is irradiated (therefore sterile) and that you need organic to make the starter (once it's going you can use anything for the bulk of it.)  I grated a couple medium-sized nodules and crushed up half a chunk of palm sugar, covered it with water to make a slurry, cheeseclothed it, and into the cupboard it goes.

I also fell victim to the siren song of the roasted pork belly under heat lamps behind the counter at Rhino Foods.  I asked for "one half pound" and walked out with one AND a half pounds.  Luckily it is delicious, and the whole experience is worth it for a taste of the chili-onion-hot-pepper-fish-sauce it came with.