Ask Peter: Fresh turmeric
I am seeing a lot more turmeric around in stores. Could you tell me some ways of using it in cooking, and how best to store it? Kalle
Fresh turmeric is a lovely thing to use. The colour it gives to food is a deep yellow, and the flavour is good and robust — very earthy. It’s used a lot in Indian cooking for both colour and flavour and I must admit when I was younger I used it to colour a few pairs of tie-dyed pants that I used to cook in. Thank goodness there are no photos to show what they looked like.
To many people, turmeric is known as poor-man’s saffron, and in some ways of course that is true, but it’s really a marvellous spice in its own right and should be used for things that suit it.
The turmeric most people will be familiar with is the dried form, which is easy to add to things like mayonnaise, rice dishes (especially a biryani), mashed potatoes and baking. I quite like it added to scones and shortbread — especially if the former have lots of grated cheddar cheese in them and the latter a few pinches of ground fennel seed and a tablespoon or two of polenta. The aroma and crunch is lovely.
As you say, you can now often find it in the tuber form — just like root ginger, but much smaller. This is prepared the same way as ginger — scraping the skin with the back of a teaspoon if very fresh, or peeling with a potato peeler. Be warned though, unless you wear gloves you will likely have yellow stained hands for a few days, the colour can be that intense.
Turmeric can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in brown paper, for a few weeks but if it gets too damp it’ll go a little mouldy. It can also be frozen — just like ginger — so if you have to buy a minimum amount that you’re not going to use in a hurry, this can be the best way to store it. Wrap each piece tightly in clingfilm and then pack into an airtight bag or container and freeze for up to six months.
Ways to use it
Here are some good ways to use fresh turmeric more often in your cooking. You’ll need more fresh than dried — just think of it the same way you would ginger.
Mashed spuds. Finely grate or chop 2-3 teaspoons fresh turmeric and place in a pan with 200ml cream, 1 bayleaf and ¼ teaspoon lightly bashed fennel seeds, and bring to a simmer. Place a lid on and cook over the lowest heat for five minutes, then turn the heat off and leave to cool. Thirty minutes later bring back to a simmer then strain into a clean pan and add 100g butter. Bring to simmer again and mash into 500g cooked and drained potatoes, kumara or butternut squash.
Risotto. Taking the theme of an Indian biryani, you can mix it with rice in a perhaps more familiar way. Peel the turmeric and add the peelings to your vegetable stock. Saute the onions and other ingredients for your sofrito then add the rice and grated turmeric. Allow around 1 tablespoon grated fresh turmeric for 300g risotto rice. If you don’t have the fresh stuff, simply add 1 teaspoon ground turmeric to the stock and 1 teaspoon to the rice.
Trifle. Try making a trifle using poached pears as the fruit instead of berries or stonefruit. Add some sliced turmeric and ginger to the poaching liquor (be generous) and a little grated turmeric in the custard. Adding ground ginger and cardamom to the custard — or the poaching liquor — will also add a lovely Indian twist to the trifle.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.