It’s early April, the sakura are in full bloom, and spring is in the air. Except that it’s raining right now and an icy wind is blowing all the blossoms off the trees. Oh well, at least I have my shin-shōga. Shōga is your average piece of ginger, brown-skinned and sharp, and shin-shōga is its younger, springtime version, pale, thin-skinned and mild. It’s this ginger, sliced and pickled, that is mounded up next to the green plastic leaf in your box of lunchtime sushi.
But pickles are only the beginning for shin-shōga. Because it has the fresh astringency of ginger without the bite, you can use it raw, and it is especially tasty when julienned and added to salads. When cooked, it loses its bright crunch, but the delicate fragrance wafting up from any dish you’ve added it to makes up for it. With soups and rice, you can toss in the shin-shōga right at the end of cooking and let it soften a bit in the residual heat. That’s what I do when making this early-spring rice, a mix of young ginger, fresh crab and thin green onions.
Some notes about ingredients: Young ginger is a popular ingredient in other Asian cuisines, so you should be able to find it at Asian supermarkets from spring through early summer. I buy my cooked crab meat in the sashimi section of my local grocery store, where I sometimes want to cry when I see how beautiful and cheap everything is. Imitation crab meat is not a suitable substitute. Finally, the green onions in Japan are typically much thinner than in the U.S., about half the diameter; look for the thinnest you can find or just use one thick one.
Kani to shin-shōga gohan (Crab and young ginger rice)
Makes 2 servings
1 cup Japanese rice, washed and drained
2-inch (5-cm) piece of young ginger
3.5 oz (100 g) cooked crab meat
2 thin green onions
Cook the rice in a rice cooker or on the stovetop as usual. (See the directions for cooking Japanese rice here.) When the rice is almost cooked, peel the ginger, cut in half crosswise, and julienne. Thinly slice the green onion. When the rice is cooked, add the ginger, crab and green onion to the cooker or pot and stir to mix everything in. For best flavor, serve immediately.