Today we are talking Armoracia rusticana, the humble horseradish; beloved child of the family Brassicaceae and essential bedfellow of mayo and mustard in a perfect steak sandwich. This long white gnarly root is one of winter’s redeeming features. It can be found liberally peppering the byways of Britain at this time of year. I highly recommend that you get hold of some to liberally pepper in your cooking too. Today’s post is in three parts:
- Preserving the root. Create a hot condiment that will keep in your fridge for months.
- Sumptuous sauce. Serve with meat dishes or in coleslaw (a quality dish despite the fact it sounds like a viral disease.)
- Bloody Marys. Gazpacho for grownups.
Before we proceed a note of warning: the secret to enjoying horseradish is all about the amount. In moderation the root gives peppery pizazz to your meal, too much in a mouthful however and the sensation is like holding a lit splint to the back of your throat.
Part 1: preserving the root
- 20-25 cm horseradish root
- 2 tbsp water (if using a food processor)
- 1 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
- Generous pinch of salt
- Shovel up a clump of horseradish.
- Remove the leaves and peel.
- Either chop roughly and blitz in a food processor (with water), or grate.
- DON’T RUB YOUR EYES.
- Remove any excess water that is pooling.
- Weep uncontrollably (it’s the chemicals I promise).
- Add the remaining ingredients and thoroughly combine.
- Spoon prepared horseradish into a jar and store for up to 4 weeks.
The horseradish plant grows wild across most of Europe and should be easy to find, although now that the first frosts have hit and the leaves have wilted it may be more challenging to identify. This video should help you, it also contains a friendly old man scything and a dormouse nest and is therefore essential watching all round. When you are searching out a suitable root try to select a younger one. The new offshoots will be smaller and so easier to harvest and will not yet have developed the undesirable woody quality to which the older root stock is prone.
When damaged the horseradish plant produces allyl isothiocyanatel, AKA mustard oil, AKA the tissue-manufacturers best friend. This chemical is released when the root is cut or grated and acts as an irritant to the sinuses and eyes. Therefore I really recommend that you wear a goggles when you are preparing horseradish. No, I’m not having a laugh. I speak from the bitter voice of experience. I pride myself on being able to stand tearless and fearless when chopping even the most pungent onion but when blending this root I literally wept. It was a mini-monsoon in our kitchen.
‘We need never be ashamed of our tears.’
― Charles Dickens,
Notes on trespass
By this time of year horseradish roots are very well established and will need to be forceably liberated with a sturdy fork or spade. Before digging up private property you should probably seek permission from the occupant. In general people do not appreciate condiment-crazed strangers mutilating their lawns. Of course getting the go ahead from the landowner will not stop suspicious passersby from aggressively questioning your motives. I had three local do-gooders stop to interrogate me as I delved into my neighbour’s flowerbed. When they ask just smile and say ‘Don’t mind me, I’m burying the bodies’.
Part 2: sumptuous sauce
You can use your prepared horseradish straight from the jar or you can turn it into something creamier and more spreadable.
- 2–3 tbsp prepared horseradish
- 100ml cream/crème fraîche/soured cream/yogurt
- 1/2 tsp mustard
- Pinch caster sugar
- Drizzle lemon juice (optional)
- Handful of chopped chives or dill (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Combine everything in a bowl.
- Eat with/on stuff.
You can use any of the suggested ingredients as a base, alone or in combination. What will work best depends on the taste and texture that you are aiming to achieve. Soured cream produces a fresh and feisty sauce, suitable for mixing into vegetable dishes such as coleslaw or remoulade. If you use double or even extra thick cream then your condiment will be richer, with a significant underlying sweetness that perfectly complements a meaty steak sandwich. Crème fraîche gives you a happy medium. Yogurt is I suppose the healthy option, but I would only ever use it if I was caught short in the cream department.
Part 3: Bloody Marys
The Bloody Mary is a lunch time cocktail for when life gets hard. It lies somewhere between a tipple and tomato soup, marrying fruitiness, heat and alcohol perfectly to create a nuanced if somewhat confusing masterpiece.
- 50ml vodka
- 100ml tomato juice
- 5ml Italian vermouth
- Dash fino sherry
- 1tsp prepared horseradish
- Dash tabasco
- Squeeze of lemon and a wedge
- Grind of salt and pepper
- Small celery shoot
- Combine the vodka and the tomato juice in a cocktail shaker.
- Add the other ingredients one by one, tasting the balance after each.
- Add ice cubes (as large as possible) to the shaker and stir gently until chilled.
- Double strain into a tall glass or a wine glass to remove the bits.
- Garnish with a celery stick and a lemon wedge.
- Drown your sorrows.