Spicy, sweet, briny, and bright — people are just fanatical about pickled ginger. I have a friend who chooses a sushi restaurant based on how much she likes their gari (the pink pickled ginger we associate with sushi). The store and restaurant-bought versions are great in their own right, but you might be surprised to learn how easy and inexpensive it is to make your own pickled ginger at home.
Gari, sometimes called sushi ginger, is the pink pickled ginger usually found at sushi restaurants. The pink color comes from the pink tips of fresh young ginger. Young ginger is preferred for pickling, as it has a thin skin, which is incredibly easy to peel, and the flesh is tender and easy to thinly slice.
Young ginger has a short season in the spring and is more likely to be found at an international market than the supermarket.
However, the golden tan hands of mature ginger that are easily found at the grocery store can be turned into pink pickled ginger as well. With either kind of ginger, we find that a spoon is a much more effective peeler than a regular vegetable peeler.
Prepare the Ginger: How To Peel Ginger
Pink Pickled Ginger
While gari from young ginger gets its color from the ginger's natural pink pigment, mature ginger can be colored by pickling a single red radish along with the ginger. This maneuver is totally optional — it is not unusual to see white (or slightly off-white) pickled ginger in many sushi joints these days. Some diners were turned off by the pink stuff's alleged food coloring, so some chefs prefer to leave their pickled ginger unadorned.
Taming Ginger's Heat
Mature ginger is a bit tougher and more fiery than the fresh young ginger, so it needs to be cooked lightly or quickly cured with salt before pickling. Toss the sliced ginger with kosher salt and let it sit for at least 30 minutes before pickling. The salt will soften the ginger and tame its heat at the same time.
Using Your Pickled Ginger
Pickled ginger has many uses outside of simply being enjoyed alongside sushi: Chop it up for stir-fries, pour the brine into cold noodle sauces, whisk it into salad dressings, toss with salted green beans and peanuts, stir into lemonade or cocktails, or add to braised meat dishes just before serving.
How To Pickle Ginger
What You Need
12 ounces fresh ginger (about 2 large hands)
1 large red radish (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar (optional)
Chef's knife or mandoline
Small spoon, for peeling
1 wide-mouth pint jar with lid
Measuring cups and spoons
Canning funnel (optional)
- Prepare the jars: Wash the jar and lid with warm soapy water, rinse well, and dry before using.
- Prepare the vegetables: Peel the ginger with a small spoon. Thinly slice on a mandoline or with a knife. Thinly slice the radish, if using.
- Salt the ginger: Combine the ginger and salt in a small bowl. Set aside for 30 minutes.
- Fill the jar: Put the radish, if using, into jar. Add the ginger and pack tightly.
- Make the pickling brine: Combine the vinegar, water, and sugar in a small saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the brine over the ginger, filling the jar to within 1/2 inch of the top. You might not use all the brine.
- Remove air bubbles: Gently tap the jar against the counter a few times to remove all the air bubbles. Top off with more pickling brine if necessary.
- Seal the jar: Seal the jar tightly.
- Cool and refrigerate: Let the jar cool to room temperature. Store the pickles in the refrigerator. The pickles will improve with flavor as they age — try to wait at least 48 hours before cracking them open.
- Storage: These pickles are not canned and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. If you process and can the jars, they can be stored at room temperature unopened.