Freshly grated ginger is the secret to irresistible gingersnaps, especially the crisp fragile ones that Deborah, my New York sister in law, makes. The whole house fills up with a spicy aroma and the fresh ginger gives these delicate cookies a deliciously fiery bite.
But grating ginger isn’t all that easy. The knobby, tan-colored rhizome of Zingiber officianale is dense and thickly fibrous. For baking, the trick is to reduce the flavorful root to a sort of puree, minus the tough fibers–hopefully without skinning your fingertips.
So when I read Florence Fabricant’s blurb on the Triangle, a German ginger and lemon grater, I paid attention. “It works like a charm, both for grating and cleanup, “ she wrote in The New York Times (See “Ginger Meets Its Match in a Grater” in “Food Stuff,” February 28, 2007, page D2).
Naturally Broadway Panhandler sold out of the Triangle immediately.
Eventually I tracked one down, but by the time it arrived I was thinking, “Do I really need a special tool just for grating ginger? (OK it does lemons too, but still…)” Besides I’ve got the miraculous Microplane rasp from Lee Valley.
Today I decided to put both graters to the test. Rummaging around in a kitchen drawer, I also dug out an old porcelain grater which I hadn’t used for years. It was a tool I’ve always disliked, but couldn’t bear to throw away because I love its plain good looks.
Anyway, while grating a big beautiful hand of Hawaiian ginger, I began to think about the characteristics of the ideal grater: it would be easy to use and clean, it would be fast, it would turn out a fiber-free ginger puree, and it would be versatile—you could use it for other stuff as well.
I decided to get scientific about it. Sort of. I used one-inch pieces of plump fresh ginger and I peeled it before grating, since the skin can be tough and I didn’t want even tiny pieces in the puree. I timed the number of seconds it took to grate the ginger to the last shreds. I also tried grating a lemon and, since I’ve been experimenting with dipping sauces for Japanese soba, I added a crisp daikon radish to the test.
And now, for the results:
1. White Porcelain Ginger Grater: www.amazon.com, $5.95.
This is the simple, inexpensive ginger grater sold in many Asian cookware shops. Unlike other graters, it has no holes. Instead, there are 20 or more rows of small rounded porcelain “nubs” pointed enough to cut through the rhizome’s flesh when pressure is applied, but not sharp enough to abrade your fingertips.
Ease of use: It’s pretty simple. Either hold the grater in one hand or rest it on the counter, and vigorously rub the end of the root against the surface. The grating goes quickly, but I found that my grater was so small that the grated ginger was spilling off the edges by the time I got to the last bits. The best way to get the ginger off the grater is with your finger—even so, some of it will stick to the surface. To clean, you simply rinse it in running water or stick it in the dishwasher.
Speed: It took about 50 seconds to reduce a one-inch piece of ginger to a puree.
Fibers: Of the three graters, this one left the most fibers in the ginger puree, which would make it hard to mix it evenly into a batter.
Versatility: Don’t even bother grating citrus zest—the nubs aren’t sharp enough. However, it easily purees a daikon radish.
2. Triangle Ginger and Lemon Grater: www.broadwaypanhandler.com, $23.95.
This German grater has a triangular perforated hinged top that lowers onto a base with rows of tiny raised spikes, which grip the ginger when it is rubbed across them. Both pieces are attached to a handle.
Ease of Use: The Triangle is not exactly hard to use, but like so many kitchen gadgets these days, it seems overly designed. Before grating, you snap the top and bottom together, and rub the ginger over the molded spikes that protrude through the holes in the top. The front end of the grater has two rubber clad feet, presumably to keep it from skidding on the countertop. To remove the grated ginger, click the lever at the neck of the grater and the top pops up from the bottom. Scrape the ginger off the perforated top. Rinse it clean. Dishwasher safe.
So what’s wrong? First, the top and bottom don’t line up exactly, so you may have to fiddle a little to get them to snap together. Second, the lever works about 3 times out of 10, so you usually have to open it manually. Neither action is difficult, but why bother in the first place?
Speed: Faster than the porcelain grater–35 seconds for a one-inch piece of ginger.
Fibers: The ginger puree had some fibers, though not as many as with the porcelain grater.
Versatility: The Triangle grates citrus zest into minuscule bits; it reduces daikon to a puree almost instantly. The Times recommends it for grating horseradish.
3. Stainless Steel Rasp and Zester Holder: www.leevalley.com, $15.95
Manufactured by Lee Valley Tools in Canada, this is the original Microplane. It began as a wood rasp and became a kitchen tool when owner Leonard Lee’s wife discovered that it also zested oranges beautifully. Essentially it is a two-piece stainless steel box, 13-inches by 1-inch, that is open on one end. The top piece has 400 sharply ridged perforations; it fits over a box-like base that catches whatever you are grating.
Ease of use: Blessedly simple. Fit the top over the bottom, hold it in place, and rub ginger over the perforations. The grated ginger is captured below, although some will stick to the back of the perforated top. I usually whack it on a cutting board to release the ginger. Clean it under running water or put it in the dishwasher. A few dried up fibers may remain on the top, but they seem to disappear very quickly.
Speed: The fastest. 25 seconds to grate a one inch piece of ginger.
Fibers: The rasp’s sharply ridged perforations produced the creamiest ginger puree. There are fibers, but they are broken down into small bits, so the texture of the puree is smooth.
Versatility: This is where the Microplane really shines. It pulverizes daikon and garlic almost to a liquid, and finely shreds citrus zest with very little pressure. You can also use it to grate hard spices like cinnamon sticks and nutmeg, to a powder.
Was it a fair fight? Not really. I knew the Microplane would win.