Kitchen Witch - Hung Like A Horseradish

Oh, Dios mio, what is this? asked the cashier at my local Whole Foods. She did have reason to wonder about the gnarly, hairy root dirtying up her grocery scanner.

“It looks like elephant foot,” she said, grimacing.

“No, it doesn’t,” I whispered. “It looks like a penis.”

Indeed, fresh horseradish can look shockingly phallic, but that’s not the reason to give it a try. If the only horseradish you’ve ever had is the stuff out of a jar that you mix with ketchup for shrimp cocktail, it’s time to experience the real deal.

In season during early spring, fresh horseradish is usually in supermarkets in time for Passover (it’s one of the five bitter herbs served at Seder, which begins this year at sundown, April 23), and then it seems to disappear from the produce aisle. Beyond its misshapen, filthy exterior is a creamy white flesh that, once grated, will send your nostrils and taste buds into another galaxy.

An ancient plant known for its medicinal qualities (cough medicine, anyone?), horseradish is a member of the mustard family, which means it’s related to kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Because its aroma and flavor is hyper-potent, horseradish needs taming. Think plain yogurt or sour cream, or even mayonnaise. Piquant horseradish loves the mellowness of fat, which is why it works so well with roast beef, cream cheese, and yes, those shrimp.

To get started, open the windows in the kitchen for ventilation - and if you don’t believe me, let me know next week about your nostrils being set on fire. Scrub the beast thoroughly; the fresh stuff usually comes caked in dirt and needs a vigorous soak as well. With a sharp knife, cut away the skin. With a grater, grate a hunk until you have approximately 1/4 cup horseradish. This is a good amount to start with; you can also add more, but you can never take it away. I recently made a meal built around the knobby beast, using it in a sauce that worked as a medium, seamlessly linking all the components on the plate. Let me know what you discover on your horseradish journey.

A Supper with horseradish Sauce:

1/4 cup freshly grated horseradish

At least 1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream (add more if the flavor is too intense)

Zest of 1 lemon, chopped

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

Small handful of fresh dill leaves, chopped

Stir together sauce ingredients and taste for salt. Set aside.For the rest of dinner:

Six to eight small, waxy potatoes

Additional fresh dill (optional)

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Olive oil or sesame oil

Two 6-8 oz. salmon fillets

Two crisp apples, sliced into eighths just before serving

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Boil potatoes in salted water and cook until fork tender. Mash by hand and add salt, pepper, a few teaspoons of horseradish sauce, and extra dill, if desired. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly.

Mix the ground coriander and cumin with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Rub the mixture over salmon filets with enough oil to moisten the spices (approximately 1 teaspoon). Heat a saute pan and sear the fish, skin side down, for at least three minutes. Turn fish onto other side and continue to cook — either in an ovenproof saute pan or on a baking sheet — in preheated oven. Cook until desired doneness, approximately five to seven minutes.

Place salmon on plates with a healthy scoop of mashed potatoes and sliced apple. Taste everything with the sauce and learn about your new friend, the horseradish. Isn’t it spectacular against the crunch of the apple? Is it refreshing against the fat of the salmon? Serves two.

Culinary questions? Reach CL’s Kitchen Witch at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.??