On a Sunday afternoon, lounging around my apartment watching “Terms of Endearment” on HBO, inspiration suddenly strikes and I am compelled to make ginger ale from scratch.
It would take a team of behavior specialists and Debra Winger fans to analyze this phenomenon, but suffice it to say: I was hot and I had ginger. I recalled a recipe for homemade Ginger Ale in Jean-George’s book “Cooking At Home with a Four-Star Chef”, so I tore myself away from Aurora Greenway and studied the recipe.
The recipe is pretty specific: it calls for one pound of fresh ginger, two stalks of lemongrass, and two small fresh chiles (“stems removed.”) I didn’t have much of that: I just had a big knob of ginger leftover from something gingery.
There are two types of cooks in this world: those who won’t do a recipe unless they have everything the recipe calls for, down to the smallest detail (a pinch of salt measured by approximating the cookbook author’s finger size and pinch-grasp) and those who use a recipe as a launching pad, throwing things together willy-nilly* and hoping for the best.
[* Note: This is the first time I’ve used the phrase “willy-nilly” on this blog and I wanted to point that out. Thank you!]
I used to be in the former category, a recipe purist, until I saw Julia Child say on TV that “anyone who doesn’t do a recipe because they’re missing an ingredient or two, will never be a cook.” The more and more I get into cooking, the more I realize that Julia’s right. And such was the case with this ginger ale.
For example, in the recipe proper, it tells you to chop the ginger (skin-on), the lemongrass and the chiles and then puree them in a food processor. My food processor hasn’t been working lately, so I just grated the ginger into a little pot and when i got tired of grating, I chopped up the rest. I took one dried red chile and crumbled it in:
I added about 2 cups of water (maybe a little less), 1/2 cup of sugar, and put it on the boil. When it came to the boil, I reduced to a simmer and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Pretty quickly I tasted to make sure I liked the balance and, indeed, I did.
Once it’s syrupy, and 15 minutes have passed, let it cool and then strain it (I strained into a measuring glass to make it easier to pour later):
Chill it in the fridge until you just can’t wait anymore, and then get yourself a glass with some ice in it (we don’t have any glasses! Just mugs!) and some soda water and set it all out with the syrup:
Pour 1/4 cup of syrup into the glass then stir in the soda water. Taste! Add more syrup if you think it needs more. Isn’t it refreshing?
Seriously: this is one refreshing summer drink. And it has a real kick to it with those chiles (or, in my case, that one chile). It’s a heat that sneaks up on you, you take a gulp, you smile, and then the back of your throat starts to burn. You’ll love it.
For those recipe purists, though, who want to know Jean-George’s exact recipe: here it is. Skip the lemongrass if you can’t find it, though next time I make this, I’m going to include it. I’m also going to make the full recipe next time because the small amount I made will hardly make three drinks and I have a feeling I’m going to be drinking this a lot this summer. It’s a perfect summer drink.
Homemade Ginger Ale
recipe by Jean-Georges Vongerichten
from “Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef”
1 pound fresh ginger, unpeeled and cut into small dice
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and roughly chopped
2 small fresh chiles, stems removed
1 1/2 cups sugar
1. Combine the ginger, lemongrass and chiles in food processor and process until minced, stopping the machine periodically and scraping down the sides.
2. Place the puree in a saucepan with the sugar and 1 quart water (that’s four cups). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Cool, then strain and chill.
3. To serve, place 1/4 cup of the syrup in a glass full of ice. Fill with soda water, taste and add more syrup if you like. Garnish with a lime wedge, then serve.