Portions of this piece were originally published—in inferior form because you deserve the best— on Gourmet.com and Salon.
When I was in college, other kids got care packages with brownies and checks for books (read: beer). I got boxes of greasy glass jars, Scotch tape slipping off the lids. They were perfect. My mother was not a baker of brownies, but she did know what I wanted 600 miles from home: ginger scallion sauce.
Ginger scallion sauce is not, I’ll admit, the prettiest thing you’ll see today, but its flavor is ridiculous. It’s like if you packed a room full of ginger and scallion and threw a grenade into it, because, well, that’s kind of like how you make it: You chop the two up, and then subject them to the spectacular violence of dumping in smoking-hot oil. The flash of intense heat makes the ginger and scallion sweeter and rounder, and infuses it all through the oil. (The superstar chef David Chang of Momofuku is also a fan, but I will say this: My version is better than his, because he stirs his together without getting the oil volcano-hot first. That said, I would trust him over me on all other culinary matters.)
You can find the fragrant, salty, oily goodness of ginger scallion sauce wherever you find Cantonese barbecue, the places where you see roasted ducks and garish red strips of char siu pork hanging in the window. That said, I don’t actually know its history or, since I’ll happily eat it on anything from pork to a shirt sleeve, what it’s technically supposed to be used for. (Poached chicken is one traditional partner, but that’s just too limiting.)
The thing is, it’s spectacular as on just about anything that can use a fresh, salty, oniony, bracing kick: bread or noodles or sautéed shrimp or scrambled eggs. Mmmm … scrambled eggs. No food, not even a bowl of white rice, is too humble to be transformed into an utterly delicious meal with a spoonful of ginger scallion sauce. Hell, forget food. I’ve dripped so much of it on the couch that Sunday afternoons I’d watch football, catch a whiff from the armrest, and get hungry. More than once, I looked at that armrest with improper thoughts. Believe me.
Ginger Scallion Sauce
Makes 2 cups; a little goes a long way
2 bunches (about 8 ounces) whole scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 ounces ginger, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup oil, preferably peanut or corn (I would avoid olive oil and definitely no canola, which, when heated, tastes like a piece of metal trying to be a piece of fish.)
Salt, to taste
1. Whirl the scallions in a food processor until they’re finely minced but not puréed (meaning stop before it gets liquidy and pasty). Put them in a wide, tall, heatproof bowl, several times bigger than you think you need. For real. Use a cooking pot if you have to, because when that oil gets in there, the sizzle is going to be serious business.
2. Grind up the ginger in the food processor until it’s about the same size as the scallions. Put it into the bowl with the scallions.
3. Salt the ginger and scallion like they called your mother a bad name and stir it well. Taste it. It won’t taste good because that much raw ginger and scallion doesn’t really taste good, but pay attention to the saltiness. You want it to be just a little too salty to be pleasant, because you have to account for the oil you’re about to add.
4. Take another good look at the bowl. Are you sure it’s heatproof? Are you sure it’s big enough to hold at least four or five times what you have in there? Good, because…
5. Heat the oil until it just barely starts to smoke. Then pour it into the bowl. It’s going to sizzle and bubble like a science-project volcano, and it’s going to smell awesome. But don’t stick your face in it. You wouldn’t stick your face in lava, would you?
6. Let it cool to room temperature. Keep it in the fridge. Try to remember that there are other food groups.
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