How to Mumble Lemongrass
No matter if you plan on infusing liquids with lemongrass, adding its aromas to curries or marinades, or bruise and pounding for flavoring soup or tea; its essential that you properly prepare fresh lemongrass. Step one is trimming and discarding its tough woody base before preparing any additional stalks.
Once this has been achieved, the inner core will become visible and ready for cooking purposes. From here you’ll want to slice, grind, bruise or mince.
Lemongrass, a tall and fragrant tropical and subtropical herb native to Southeast Asian cuisine that adds a citrusy scent and flavor, can add depth and complexity to dishes. Most often used in Southeast Asian cooking but also popularly seen in Vietnamese, Thai, and Indonesian recipes. Lemongrass’ distinctive fragrance comes from its inner stalks of its plant. Use whole or chopped to bring fresh citrus flavors into any dish you create; use either whole stalks or chopped for best results; it can be difficult to use whole but requires either a knife or food processor in order to mince it properly.
If using fresh lemongrass, begin by trimming away its rough woody base. Remove thicker outer layers until reaching a soft yellow core scented with fresh lemony scents; set this part aside before using any leftover lemongrass for soups, curries or other dishes that call for it.
Cut, dice, crush, bruise or mince lemongrass stalks using a sharp kitchen knife, food processor or mortar and pestle depending on your recipe’s needs. If it calls for the outer portion to be diced or sliced then use six-inch lengths cut from stem as cutting tools while peeling away any tough layers from outside layer of stalk.
Use the sharp end of a knife or cleaver to carefully chop off one inch from each stalk’s base to release some oils and make the cutting process simpler. This will also make harvesting much simpler.
Once you’ve trimmed lemongrass, patting its stalks dry will help prevent them from clumping together and becoming difficult to handle when it’s time to pound them later on. You can soften them further by placing them atop a hot coal or microwaving for one minute – or both!
Once your stalks have been pounded down, place them on a cutting board and use a sharp kitchen knife to slice thin strips from them using thin cuts. Be mindful when cutting lemongrass as this herb can be very tough and fibrous – and your slices should be relatively flat and wide as this will allow for infusion with liquids.
Lemongrass is tough, so before being added to a dish it must first be bruised or pounded to release its oils and break apart its fibrous outer layers. While you could slice or finely chop, Yun and Payumo agree that pounding it is much more effective for extracting maximum flavor from lemongrass. Essentially you place it flat on the counter and hit it with either a kitchen mallet, knife blade back or rolling pin until all its oils have been released and fibrous outer layers broken up by hitting it against something hard enough.
Once the tough outer layer has been stripped off, use your fingers to locate and harvest the yellow inner portion. That is where it should be minced or pounded (or both!). The lower portion of the stalk contains edible components which make an excellent addition to marinades, grilled meats and curry paste dishes as well as tea blends.
Notably, some recipes require whole, unminced lemongrass stalks in certain dishes requiring long cooking times like oven-roasted or grilled dishes. This is often due to lemongrass burning during this lengthy cooking process if not cut into small enough pieces prior to roasting/grilling/etc.
If you wish to experiment with pounding lemongrass, it is recommended to first rinse and pat dry your lemongrass to prevent it from clumping together in your mortar bowl during the pounding process. In order to facilitate easier pounding of the lemongrass, heat can also help soften it beforehand so as to make pounding simpler.
Once you’re ready to begin, position the lemongrass flat on your counter and use your chosen implement to smash it until you achieve a fine mince. Keep in mind this process can be time consuming; therefore it may be necessary to rest and rest your arms periodically. Alternatively, speeding up this process can be done by placing lemongrass in a glass jar with lid tightly sealed and vigorous shaking for quicker pounding results. Once done, store in airtight containers in the refrigerator up to 7 days later for optimal storage results.
Lemongrass or Kaffir Lime Leaf (Cymbopogon citratus) is an herb with a distinct citrusy fragrance that adds zest to many Southeast Asian cuisines. Lemongrass can either be added during cooking to infuse flavors into liquids, or minced and added directly prior to serving – often used alongside chiles, garlic, fish sauce and coconut milk as curries; in stir fries; soups and teas it is frequently included as an ingredient.
When working with lemongrass, cutting and bruising it are necessary for extracting its aromatic oils and making it edible. Therefore, when cutting through tough stalks with a large sharp knife it’s wise to cut your lemongrass into 6-inch lengths so that you can easily reach its inner core for mincing purposes.
Once the outer fibrous and woody layers have been stripped away from the lower half of a stalk to expose its tender inner core, you should peel one or more layers away to reveal it. For cooking purposes (such as curry) use either a knife or food processor to finely chop all or part of it finely while for marinades or cocktails you could either pound with a meat pounder until desired texture or combine ingredients with blender until your final product resembles lemon zest in consistency.
Rather than toss out unneeded lemongrass stalks, consider freezing them individually in plastic wrap to preserve its freshness and use when needed in recipes later on. You may be able to find pre-chopped frozen lemongrass at Asian markets or grocery stores; and in certain supermarkets whole, trimmed, frozen lemongrass that has already been minced into paste can also be purchased – perfect if fresh lemongrass is hard to come by or you simply don’t have time.
Lemongrass can be used in various ways, and preparation should allow its full flavor to come through. When used for marinades or curry paste, only use the lower bulb part of the stalk while discarding its tops; but the upper section can also be cut and bruised to add fragrance and lemony, gingery notes to soups and curries by making multiple shallow cuts into each piece and gently bending them over to release oils that release their flavors into your dish.
When purchasing lemongrass stalks, look for those that are tightly packed together and feel firm to the touch. If they appear limp or mushy, that may indicate they are too old and won’t taste quite right. Lemongrass can also be stored easily in an ice cube tray until needed; simply freeze uncut, pounded or minced stalks until ready for use.
Fresh, unprepared stalks should keep for several weeks in the fridge; however, frozen ones work just as well for quick meals like Vietnamese coffee or Thai-inspired chicken curry. Simply remove from ice cube tray and store in Ziploc bag until you are ready to thaw and chop.
Lemongrass is an indispensable element in Thai cuisine, pairing perfectly with coconut milk, chilies, fish sauce and lime in soups and curries. Lemongrass stalks have the capacity to tolerate longer cooking times without becoming bitter or charred; therefore making lemongrass the ideal ingredient to use in stews and soups as long-cooking recipes require longer heat treatment periods than normal. However, for best results most recipes call for finely minced versions in order to withstand prolonged exposure to heat.