Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In Season: Celery Root

I've asked, and got the same response from several farmers.

"How are things looking after the recent Arctic Blast?" I query.

"Brown and slimy," they answer.

And that's why, at the last farmers' market I went to, there was nary a green in sight. But take heart. Your winter greens will reappear. And there are other delights awaiting discovery, like the ugly but tasty celery root, also known as celeriac or knob celery.

Perusing my haunts, I ran across a recipe from the always-delightful Edward Schneider (a contributor to Mark Bittman's blog, Bitten) on the charms of this delightful vegetable (and read to the end...you won't regret it!):

"Nowadays, when we buy more fish than we need, or when I’ve trimmed a fillet to make neat portions (for company), the extra gets frozen and usually becomes fish cakes. I’ve always felt a little stupid serving them with potatoes, because they already are potatoes, but since its only Jackie and me that’s what I do. The other night, though, I addressed this redundancy and replaced the potato with celery root (celeriac, knob celery), a wonderful vegetable too little used and just appearing in our local farmers’ market.

"This worked like a charm, but it took a little figuring out, because — duh — a celery root isn’t a potato. It’s wetter, for one thing, and that meant making sure I had enough bread crumbs in the house. Here’s what to do:

"For four portions (eight fishcakes) you’ll need about three quarters of a pound of fish. What I had in the freezer was hake, an ideal choice.

"Finely chop a medium-small onion and a small rib of celery and cook them in two tablespoons of butter and some salt over low heat until soft but not browned. Set aside to cool.

"Ruthlessly peel a celery root. In other words, forget about your Ecko peeler: Take a knife and cut away all the dirty parts, right down to the flesh; my 20-ouncer lost a quarter of its weight in the process. Rinse, cut into big chunks and put into a pan. Top with milk to cover (perhaps two cups) and add salt. Simmer until tender, about a quarter hour or a little more. Watch carefully; this can and will boil over if your attention wanders. Remove the celery root — do not throw away that milk — and mash it with a fork — you want a few small chunks to remain, but some of it should be almost pureed.

"Put the fish (defrosted, or nearly, if it’s from the freezer) into the milk, bring it to the boil, let it simmer for a minute, then turn off the heat. Cover the pan and let it sit for five or six minutes. Remove the fish and put it into a big bowl with the cooked onion. Flake/mash with a fork or your fingers. Add about as much mashed celery root as you have fish (eyeballed by volume) and season well with salt, pepper and a lot of chopped parsley. It should no longer be hot, so you can add two beaten eggs, then enough breadcrumbs to hold the mixture loosely together; it will still feel moist. This could take a whole cup of crumbs made from stale but not desiccated bread, but start with half that. Mix thoroughly and taste for seasoning.

"Let the mixture sit for five or ten minutes, then shape it into eight one-inch-thick cakes. Dip each one in beaten egg then in more crumbs, patting gently to make sure everything adheres. At this point they can be refrigerated until dinner time. Fry them golden brown in an eighth inch of (ideally) clarified butter or neutral oil, over quite low heat.

"By now, you’ll have thrown away that milk. If you hadn’t, you could have used it to make a sauce. But forget it: anything more than a squeeze of lemon will interfere with the flavor and texture of the celery root. Serve with — hooray! — potatoes, mashed or fried."

Late Addition: Anthony Boutard, our Farm Bulletin contributor, has his own way with the root:

"So crisp and sweet, it is a shame to cook them. Prepare as a salad or celeriac remoulade. First, grate or julienne the raw roots.

"For a salad, dress with lemon juice and olive oil. We mince the greens into the mix, or add chopped celery when available.

"For a celeriac remoulade, sprinkle the grated roots with lemon juice and then dress with a remoulade sauce. The sauce is mayonnaise seasoned with mustard and a sprinkle of cayenne. We follow James Beard's suggestion of mixing a sharp Dijon with sweeter German mustard and the pungent English mustard. A nice balance. The salad is especially good the next day. On occasion, we sprinkle some caraway seed into the remoulade, a Nordic gesture."


Bpaul said...

That's a great use of the vegetable, thanks for posting the recipe.


Kathleen Bauer said...

I love recipes that make use of leftovers! (Though if it's fish we usually take the opportunity to make fish tacos.)

bb said...

and i have to say a rather attractive photo....nicely taken!

Mary Bergfeld said...

I always learn something when I come here. Thanks for the recipe.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks, you two! I really like Ed's writing when it appears on Bitten...he's a great source.