Horseradish Preparation

Ah, horseradish. Delicious and so easy to grow you might want to plant it somewhere where it won't bother you if it takes over. It's kind of a bully in a garden bed, but that just means there's more to harvest in the fall.

It's at its best after a frost when the leaves die back, but once it's established you can dig it up whenever you want, really. I went out on Tuesday to quick dig up bunches of roots while the temperatures were (temporarily) mild and the ground unfrozen. Although I was careful to leave behind at least a couple good roots for next year, I still brought in a big bucket of horseradish:


In the midst of Pie Day (the day before Thanksgiving, when all the baking happens), I took some time to prep the horseradish for both eating and long-term storage. First, wash it and pat it dry:


For storage, think about what you would do with any other root vegetable, maybe a carrot or turnip. Crisper drawer on high humidity will do, but only store intact roots that you didn't stab with the shovel, and only ones with all green leaf buds removed so they don't rot and cause the entire contents of your crisper drawer to spoil.

Since it's Thanksgiving, and since we also had to rescue lots of other root veggies this past week, the crisper drawers are at capacity. So I decided to try a different storage method to keep the horseradish in the root cellar (AKA the regular cellar, which in our old and woefully under-insulated house is pretty darn cold, and fairly damp). I present to you sand bucket storage:


This is, by the way, my 1970s Jersey Shore issue sand bucket, which has somehow followed me around my whole life. Not sure how that happened, but here it is. So in the freakishly warm rain last Wednesday, I went and dug a shovelful or two of sand from the kids now rarely-used sandbox (it's covered, so should be clean--certainly no more dirty than actual dirt, which is what the horseradish was in the day before). Then all you do is poke the roots in the way they would be if they were growing in the ground. The sand is supposed to hold in the right amount of moisture for the roots, which are now down in the cool, dark cellar, snug in my favorite sand bucket. I've never stored root veggies this way, but figured that horseradish was pretty low stakes, since it's really just a condiment, and as such won't be too terribly mourned if this doesn't work.

Lots of horseradish is stored, but I set some aside to prepare so it would be ready to use on Thanksgiving. This is easy, but be warned that it can make you cry as the fumes clear out your sinuses. First, peel it until you get down to the smooth, white flesh:


Just do your best.These root are irregularly shaped, and it's hard to get every little bit. No big deal.

Next, grate it. You can easily do this by hand, although you'll probably end up crying as you would when chopping onions. I used  the grater on the Cuisinart:


And since that's a pretty rough chop, I ran it through again with the regular blade:


That's about what you want it to look like. Once you have the amount you want, spoon it into a mason jar or other container, and add just enough white vinegar to cover:


And you're done. Close it up and keep it in the fridge, where it should last for months. Since the food processor makes this all go really fast, the final result was a milder prepared horseradish. The pungency of the horseradish is affected by how much time the grated root is exposed to air before you stop that reaction with the vinegar. When you grate it by hand, it takes longer, and you end up with some hot horseradish. If you like it milder (like what you'd get in the store), then the food processor is for you.

Still, even the mild version is nothing like what you get in the store. The flavor is much more complex and interesting--to the point where I'm not really sure how to describe it without feeding it to you. It's got that sinus-clearing wasabi thing going, but also has some earthy, rooty, slightly sweet flavor too. Worth the effort.

On Thanksgiving, we used ours for the traditional Bloody Mary brunch portion of the day (which I'll write more about later). It's also excellent for roast beef and in Horse Dip, and now that we have so much, I'm sure I'll figure out other ways to use it throughout the winter. Because a spicy, vinegary thing is my favorite type of thing.

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