* Fresh ginger: Also known as ginger root, fresh ginger technically isn't a root -- it's a rhizome, or underground stem. Look for this tan, knobby-fingered "hand" in the produce section of the supermarket. Choose plump, weighty pieces that are firm to the touch. If the skin is wrinkled, pass. Store unpeeled ginger in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator. Wrap it in plastic if you will not be using it for several days; it will keep for two to three weeks. Discard ginger that turns moldy.
Chinese cooks peel fresh ginger before finely grating or slicing; however, Barbara Tropp, restaurateur and author of "The China Moon Cookbook," notes that there's no harm in using unpeeled ginger. If you prefer to peel, use a vegetable peeler or paring knife.
* Ground ginger: This is dried ginger that has been finely ground. For the best flavor, use the freshest ground ginger available, not the 2-year-old bottle in your spice rack. Ground ginger stored for more than six months in your kitchen is past its prime. To avoid wasting ginger and to ensure a fresher supply, buy small amounts from health-food stores. Store tightly covered in a dark place, away from heat. Use it in savory dishes, such as stews and soups, as well as in sweet baked goods.
* Crystallized ginger: Sliced or cubed fresh ginger that has been "candied" by cooking in sugar syrup and rolling in granulated sugar is called crystallized ginger. Although most commonly used in desserts, it can also be added to sauces and marinades. Some people eat it like candy, since the concentrated spice plays well with the sugary sweetness.
Prices for crystallized ginger vary from about $7.50 a pound via mail order from Pendery's (call 800-533-1870) to $12.99 and $17.99 for sliced and cubed varieties at specialty grocers.
Price doesn't necessarily indicate quality, according to Ward. He says that Australian crystallized ginger tends to be pricier than Thai ginger, possibly because of higher labor costs. In any case, he suggests letting your taste buds be your guide. He prefers the Thai ginger for its stronger bite and "hotter" flavor.
* Pickled ginger: This sushi-bar staple is a paper-thin sheet of fresh ginger pickled in rice-wine vinegar. Several slices are commonly served as an accompaniment to sushi or as a garnish to Asian-inspired entrees. You can buy it at Asian markets.
Here are some easy ways to incorporate ginger into your cooking:
* Add 1/4 teaspoon fresh grated ginger to 1 cup whipping cream along with 2 tablespoons sifted brown sugar. Use it to top lemon, apple, pear and chocolate desserts -- or gingerbread.
* Mix 1/4 teaspoon grated ginger, 2 teaspoons lemon zest and 2 teaspoons lemon juice into 1/2 cup softened butter. Use to top grilled fish steaks; beef medallions or steaks; or sauteed or steamed vegetables, such as green beans or carrots.
* Mix 1/4 teaspoon grated ginger, 2 teaspoons orange zest, 2 tablespoons orange juice and honey to taste to make a sweet butter for biscuits or muffins.
* Add grated ginger, grated orange zest and orange juice to taste to your favorite barbecue sauce recipe for brisket or spareribs.
* Add thin ginger slices to vegetable-beef stir-fries during the last few minutes of cooking. Use the frozen Asian stir-fry vegetable packages to save time. Saute garlic and onions first, then add beef, vegetables and ginger. Season with soy sauce.
* Whisk minced crystallized ginger into honey for a sweet-and-spicy accompaniment to biscuits.
* Steep fresh ginger in chicken broth for an Asian soup base; add chopped cilantro, green onion, mushrooms and noodles for a meal in a bowl.
* Sprinkle store-bought ice cream with chopped crystallized ginger. Or add fresh grated ginger or crystallized ginger to home-made ice cream custard before freezing.
* Grate fresh ginger and mix with orange juice, lemon juice and vegetable oil to taste. Drizzle over sliced roasted beets.
Boneless Ginger-Hoisin Chicken Thighs
1/2 cup coarsely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped garlic (about 2 large cloves)
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water
8 large chicken thighs, boned (see note)
Place all ingredients except chicken in the work bowl of a food processor. Process for a few minutes, or until you have a smooth puree.
Score the underside of each chicken thigh with a knife, 1/4 inch deep, in 3 or 4 places. Rub the ginger-hoisin puree all over the chicken thighs. Place them in a bowl, cover tightly and refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours.
When ready to cook, place the thighs in roasting pan, skin side up, and put them under a preheated broiler for 7 to 8 minutes, or until skins are crunchy and brown. Turn the thighs and broil for 3 to 4 minutes more, or until thighs are just cooked through. Transfer the chicken to paper towels, then to serving platter.