This week’s Test Kitchen Note comes from our intrepid summer Culinary Intern Sandra Di Capua, (who is quite brave for sharing her story here):
As an aspiring chef at the age of, well, 15, I insisted on making everything on my own and from scratch. This included basics like salad dressing and more complicated things like challah (note to self: this was a cumbersome, tasteless brick.) One afternoon, inspired by my then favorite chef, Ming Tsai, I decided to make my own ginger ale. The slight problem I ran into was that I had only seen him do it once on TV and thought I might remember the recipe.
I found some gloomy-looking shredded ginger in the freezer and boiled the life out of it in a stockpot filled to the brim with water. It must have been on the stove for a good three hours because I distinctly remember going to play tennis for an hour, showering, having lunch, and then watching it boil for a long time. I guess I figured it would somehow taste just as good as Ming Tsai had made it look. By the end of this torturous time, I was left with half a stockpot of sallow gingery water. Sharp and spicy, it made me gag. To that ginger-infested water I added tonic (I assume that’s all we had at home, or perhaps I thought it could add a nice kick that might remedy my beverage) and a lot of sugar. I served it elegantly—ginger fibers, undissolved sugar, and all—in my parent’s finest crystal.
I’ve come a long way in five years. I still derive great pleasure from making dishes from scratch, but I’ve also learned to take some help when needed, including in the recipe department. The ginger ale that I currently make on lazy summer afternoons is incomparable to the pungent mess I made a few years back. Light and refreshing, it is a simple pleasure that reminds me of the culinary mistakes that have made my trajectory thus far both memorable and rewarding.
Thanks to Monica Glass, Gilded Fork’s resident Pastry Princess, for this simply perfect recipe:
3 cups of water
2 cups of sugar
6 inch piece of ginger, chopped
1 Liter sparkling water, chilled
Combine the water, sugar, and ginger in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce heat and simmer until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and steep the mixture for 1 hour to allow the flavors to infuse the syrup. Strain the syrup into a pitcher, discarding the ginger. Cover and chill until cold, at least 1 hour. Add the sparkling water to a pitcher with the cooled syrup and stir well. Divide among tall, chilled glasses over ice cubes and garnish each drink as desired.
-Sandra Di Capua