The citrusy, floral flavors of fresh lemongrass, with its hints of mint and ginger, have long been used to add complexity to the soups, curries, marinades, sauces, and stir-fries of Southeast Asia. It’s a key component in dishes such as Malaysian chicken satay (satay ayam) or Thai hot and sour soup with shrimp and noodles (guay tiew tom yum goong), but it can also bring aromatic flair to a slew of nontraditional applications, including tea, seltzer, cocktails, baked goods, and even ice cream. If you’ve never known exactly how to work with the stalks you see at the supermarket, here’s a handy guide.
How to Shop for Lemongrass
Lemongrass plants can grow up to 6½ feet tall, but in the supermarket you’ll find them cut down to size without their leaves. They resemble fat scallions, with a pale yellow-green stalk that fades into a tough white root. When shopping for fresh lemongrass, look for stalks that are green, firm, and fragrant and with outer leaves that aren’t too desiccated (indicating a longer time in storage).
How to Prep Lemongrass
Before you can cook with lemongrass, you must first trim about an inch from the hard, woody base and enough of the stiff green top to leave about 6 inches of stalk. Next, peel away the tough outer leaves (usually three or four layers) to reach the tender, pale inner core.
Whether you then mince this inner core or leave it whole depends on the application.
When lemongrass will be removed before serving (including in soups and broths): Crush prepped stalk with meat mallet, side of knife, or bottom of pan to release essential oils; cut into lengths.
When lemongrass will be consumed in dish (including in marinades and spice pastes): Mince prepped stalk or slice thin.
How to Store Lemongrass
These hardy stalks store well in both the fridge and freezer. You can even turn them into a paste to keep frozen and have at the ready.
- TO STORE IN THE REFRIGERATOR:
Wrap untrimmed stalks tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and store for up to 2 weeks.
- TO STORE IN THE FREEZER:
Whole: Trim green tops from stalks, wrap stalks in plastic, then seal in zipper-lock bag. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw briefly before using.
Ground: Make paste in mortar and pestle or food processor and freeze in 1-tablespoon mounds on plate. Transfer frozen portions to zipper-lock bag. No need to thaw before using.
The Best Mortars and Pestles and MolcajetesA good mortar and pestle is the perfect tool for grinding fibrous lemongrass to a paste.
Other Good Things to Know About Lemongrass
- YOU CAN GROW MORE FROM A LEFTOVER STALK
It’s easy to do by sticking the root end of the stalk in water. The new shoots grow rapidly, and we found that their flavor was just as potent and fragrant as the inner parts of the stalk that we usually use. Learn more.
- DRIED LEMONGRASS CAN BE AN ACCEPTABLE SUB FOR FRESH
Besides the fresh stalks, lemongrass can be found in a dried form in jars in the spice section. Though we don't find the dried lemongrass as complex, it’s an acceptable sub for fresh in dishes that have a lot of other flavors going on. Learn more.