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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What To Do With... Celeriac

How would I describe this vegetable to someone who had never seen one before? Knobby? Gnarly? Ugly? Hmmm. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. How about delicious? Fresh? Delicately-flavoured? The more I thought about this neglected tuber, the more I realized Celeriac needs a publicist or better still, an agent. Celeriac needs someone who can help it cultivate a reputation for being delectable, versatile and easy to work with.

Sure, Celeriac isn’t the darling of the vegetable world (yet) and that’s okay. But certainly it is destined to feature in more than French bistro favourite, celeriac remoulade. It doesn’t have to be a niche vegetable, as it can be integrated into everyday meals and has far greater range than you might expect.

As I have gotten to know Celeriac over several meals together, I have really come to enjoy this time. In fact, it came to remind me of one of Canadian literature's most beloved characters, Dunstan Ramsey, from the novel, Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies. (Mandatory high school English Lit around these parts. In my mind, it is a shining example of the Canadian literature at its best.)

The main protagonist, Dunstan Ramsay, is a headmaster of an elite Canadian boys school, who reflects upon a life lived. As he tells his story, he comes to realize that he is Fifth Business, referring to a plot device who isn’t a main character but essential for plot progression.

Anyway, it’s a food blog and not an English essay so I will get to the point. In food terms, celeriac is Fifth Business. It is a great supporting cast member in many a meal, perhaps making an appearance as part of an appetizer or soup course or as a great side to a main.

Celeriac is generally easy to find at the grocery store (of course, this varies depending on where you are reading this), and is deceptively easy to cook. Celeriac has an incredible but mellow flavour, too. Being related to celery, it carries the familiar faint aroma of that childhood snack. It tastes clean and crisp but unlike it’s school yard counterpart, celeriac can be filling and substantive with a texture similar to potatoes (when cooked.)

Celeriac, I am a fan. If you’re looking for an agent, call me. I could be the Jerry Maguire to your Rod Tidwell. We’ll do lunch or dinner…

A note on produce selection: When buying celeriac, phalange-like roots are okay. Pick up the celeriac. It should feel sizable and firm but not heavy for it’s size. It will be a little dirty and there should be limited spots of green on the vegetable. Check the ends for white mould, and if it feels soft or wrinkled, put it back down. It’s old.

To prep celeriac: Carefully peel the celeriac with a sharp knife. If you think this is going to take a little bit of time, prepare a bowl of acidulated water (add lemon juice to a bowl of water), and drop chunks of celeriac as you go along to prevent it from browning.

Here are a couple of things you can do with celeriac:

1. Roast root vegetables with duck fat– celeriac, carrots, turnips, Swedes (rutabagas), and potatoes. Peel vegetables and cut into large chunks. Cook potatoes, swedes and celeriac for ten minutes, until it’s mostly tender. Drain well. Toss vegetables (parboiled and raw) with (brace yourself) a tablespoon or two of duck fat. Sprinkle with salt and toss well to coat evenly. Roast in a 425 degree oven for about 45 minutes. After about 25 minutes, remove from oven and give them vegetables a flip. Resist the urge to flip them more than once so that the outside develops a nice golden crusty exterior with a soft fluffy interior.

(Yes, you read that right. Duck fat. Yes, artery clogging glorious luscious animal fat. I know I have said this before, but you’re going to have to trust me on this one. Duck fat lends an incredibly rich, complex but subtle flavour. Even if you don’t like duck, you still may like duck fat. It’s absolutely delicious. Save the fat next time you roast off a duck, or if you’re like me, just ask your butcher.)

2. Celeriac remoulade- the classic French bistro preparation – so easy to do at home: Peel celeriac and julienne 1 medium sized celeriac. Toss gently with lemon juice. Mix 1/2c mayonnaise, 1/3c to 1/2c light sour cream. (I have seen some recipes with a full cup of mayo, I am substituting to lighten the dish) with 3 cornichons, diced finely, 1 tbsp of capers (here’s another use for capers if you need a refresher), and 1 tbsp of grainy mustard (we have one with a bit of horseradish and it’s nice.) Add a pinch of salt and pepper, toss with celeriac and garnish with about 1-2 tbsp of chopped parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings and serve.

3. Mashed celeriac (like mashed potatoes) – peel celeriac and cut into large chunks. Cook in a large pot with lightly salted water until fork tender. Drain well. Add 1/2c warmed milk, 2 tbsp of butter, salt and pepper and mash well.

4. Cream of Celeriac Soup - peel celeriac and cut into large chunks. In a large dutch oven, melt 2 tbsp of butter, once the butter has melted, tumble in celeriac. Cook until celeriac is soft and the edges are golden. Add 1 liter of chicken stock and 1 tsp of celery salt. Turn down heat to medium-low and cover. Cook until tender (about 15-20 minutes). Carefully blend until all the soup is smooth and free of chunks. Stir in 1/2 c of cream (or evaporated milk if you're cutting the calories.) Adjust seasoning and serve.


V said...

While I find them annoying to prepare (the thick skin, etc), Iwill try the mash. It sounds interesting. Thanks for the idea.

Kevin said...

That cream of celeriac soup sounds really good. I'll have to try it out. And as a product of the Ontario school system I'd have to agree that it really is a Fifth Business.

Hungry Gal said...

@ V - I thought the skin would be annoying too... turns out - it's so easy... and it smells great - fresh, crisp and faintly of celery

@ Kevin - welcome. Looks like you love SLM as much as I do. I am glad I am not the only one who things Celeriac is FB!

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