[Greater Galangal, Galanga, Siamese Ginger; Kha (Thai); Laos, Lengkuas, (Indonesia); Rieng (Viet); Alpinia galanga]
This is an essential ingredient for Southeast Asian cuisines, particularly those of Thailand and Indonesia. While it looks rather similar to ginger, the flavor is very different, the skin is lighter in color, the inside is white rather than yellow, and it's practically wood hard. Galangal is more earthy, with flavors of citrus, pine and camphor.
Fresh root is increasingly available in the US, with some now grown in California, Florida, Central America and Pacific Islands. Dried powder is also available, but fresh is highly preferred for most uses. It was a widely used medicinal in Europe during the 11th and 12th centuries and is still used medicinally in Asia, as well as having a place in African American hoodoo magic.
More on Gingers.
Galangal is simply essential for many Thai and Indonesian recipes. It is often used in fish and shellfish recipes because it removes "fishy" tastes.which many find objectionable. Ginger can be used as a substitute but it's a rather imperfect substitute due to being spicier and less resinous. If you have to use ginger, use a little less.
Buying: Fresh galangal can be found in many specialty markets serving Southeast Asian communities, but just about nowhere else. It's the same story for frozen (generally from Thailand) and dried powder. Galangal can also be found packed in brine, but jars of Krachi are sometimes mislabeled Galangal (Krachi is long and narrow). Dried slices are also available but are highly inferior to fresh or frozen, but superior to powdered. Both fresh and dried can be purchased on-line.
Storing: Fresh galangal does not keep long even refrigerated and is subject to mold. I've had the best success, as with ginger, refrigerated in a small plastic bag with the top left open. It needs high humidity but no surface moisture. For longer keeping it should be sliced and frozen.
Slicing: Galangal is practically hard as a board, so it's not easy to slice, especially to slice thin as needed to break up the fibers for pounding in curry pastes. I set the root on the cutting board so it is stable. I set a razor sharp Chinese cleaver knife where I want the cut by slicing in just a litte. Then I drive it through with a soft faced mallet (see Chinese Cleaver Knife & Mallet).
Cooking: Galangal is commonly used two ways, sliced and included whole in soups and stews (removed before serving (or not), you don't try to eat it), and sliced, chopped and pounded into a paste for inclusion in curry pastes and the like.