No matter how many exquisite dishes you create or eat in adulthood, there’s nothing quite as extraordinary as the comfort dish your grandmother used to feed you as a child.
For chef Nelly Robinson that special treat was Jamaican ginger cake, served with a side of nanna love on a cold winter’s day in Manchester, UK.
“Food can evoke emotions, just like a song,” says Robinson, head chef and owner of nel. “When I think about ginger, straight away my mind is taken back to the times I spent with my nanna. It’s a lovely feeling.
“I remember sitting at my nanna’s place, having a cup of tea and a piece of Jamaican ginger cake. The cake was very sticky because it had treacle through it, and it was delicious.”
“When I think about ginger, straight away my mind is taken back to the times I spent with my nanna. It’s a lovely feeling."
It’s this food memory that inspired Robinson to design a melting ginger milk pudding for the British degustation menu at nel. in 2018. The dish was a sell out and the moment was defining, as it solidified the success of ginger as an ingredient and his personal interpretation of ginger cake. The recipe incorporated different shades of the pungent ingredient, mixing fresh ginger, stemmed ginger and ginger powder.
“I remember how it was a big thing for these puddings to melt in the middle and a lot of them were chocolate. So we designed one around ginger and made it with a milk ice cream.”
Ginger chicken rolls taste like home
The dish focuses on the power of ginger, which infuses the chicken during the marinating process. The chicken is then dressed in a charcoal powder crumb and fried. Finally, the protein is served on lightly toasted brioche buns, dressed with generous dollops of Japanese mayonnaise, and finished with pickled ginger and apple batons.
"This dish has got a bit of everything," explains Robinson. "The first thing it hits you with is flavour. You get a sweet and salty taste when you eat it but a fresh flavour too."
Robinson's ginger chicken roll creation celebrates the spice's sweet and peppery sensations. But it's also meant to act as a nod to his UK home and all the countries where ginger hails.
“When people think of ginger they often think of Asia because it’s used a lot in Asian cooking,” he says. “But it’s a popular ingredient all over the world.”
Versatile, culturally diverse and celebrated
Ginger is actually one of the most used spices across the globe, revered for centuries because of its medicinal and culinary potential.
“The Caribbean uses so much ginger in their cooking. As so many Jamaicans settled in the UK, it’s also used a lot in English dishes too.”
The European love affair with the ingredient started in the first century when traders brought ginger to Europe from India and China. The Spanish, who occupied Jamaica, introduced ginger plantations to the island in the 1500s. The supply of ginger to the UK increased after Jamaica became a British colony in the 1600s and the English demand for the staple has continued ever since.
"As so many Jamaicans settled in the UK, it’s also used a lot in traditional and modern English dishes too.”
Robinson recalls how ginger has traditionally featured in sweet recipes throughout the UK, as well as in hot toddies as a treatment for the flu.
“These days in the UK, you’re starting to see ginger being used in soups, like spinach and ginger soup, or added to chicken broth. That’s not something you would have seen 30 years ago. It’s the influence of the younger generation who has travelled abroad and brought back international ginger recipes.”
Currently at Robinson’s restaurant, ginger is a regular feature favoured for its pungent aroma and powerful taste: “it might used be in a ceviche, cake, or even in a cocktail. It’s such a versatile ingredient”.
“But my advice is if you want to cook with ginger, always use fresh ginger [rather than with a paste].
“Don't put too much into a dish initially, because you won’t be able to take it out easily. Just add a little bit at a time and taste test your dish as you go along. That way, you can make sure your palate can take it.”
Love the story? Follow the author here: Instagram @yasmin_noone.
Fruity ice cubes add a colourful touch to this tequila, orange and ginger ale festive drink.
This is a new classic: a sticky toffee pudding twist on gingerbread. Of course, there has to be toffee sauce, lots of toffee sauce!
For these soft and crunchy rolls, you'll be making Japanese-style fried chicken, then assembling it together with yuzu mayonnaise, pickled ginger and fresh apple.
This popular everyday dish in Japan is quick and simple, where pork (buta) and ginger (shoga) are fried (yaki) together. Serve it with shredded cabbage, rice, pickles and a side of miso soup for a classic Japanese meal set.
Dairy fills a large piece of the Indian dessert story. But where green cardamom is the dessert queen, this time ginger takes a turn in the spotlight, with these hybrid ginger ricotta fritters in a ginger syrup. It is a three-step dessert if you make your own ricotta, but the results are worth it.
Orange and ginger work so beautifully together, a pairing which is elevated even higher with a creamy lemon icing to balance out the spice. Queue the kettle.