Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana, syn. Cochlearia armoracia) is a perennial plant of the Brassicaceae family, which also includes mustard, wasabi, broccoli, and cabbages. The plant is probably native to southeastern Europe and western Asia, but is popular around the world today. It grows up to 1.5 meters (five feet) tall and is mainly cultivated for its large white, tapered root.
|Actually quite pretty flowers, aren't they?|
The intact horseradish root has hardly any aroma. When cut or grated, however, enzymes from the damaged plant cells break down sinigrin (a glucosinolate) to produce allyl isothiocyanate (mustard oil), which irritates the sinuses and eyes. Once grated, if not used immediately or mixed in vinegar, the root darkens, loses its pungency, and becomes unpleasantly bitter when exposed to air and heat.
Well, thank you, Dr. Science, I can hear you all cry. That's all very well, Jeff, but what on earth can one do with it apart from slap it on some roast beef? And how do you convert the horseradish root into the creamy condiment we all know and love? (Well, some of us love it... some very strange types actually find it yucky). Not only that, but what in the world does it have to do with horses?
Well, let's deal with that bit first.
Apparently there was an old method of preparing the root for making into sauce called "hoofing" whereby horses were actually used to stomp the root tender before it was grated. There exists another school of thought that postulates that perhaps it was a corruption of the Old German word Meerrettich ("sea radish") into Mährrettich ("mare radish"). Others think the name is due to the coarseness of the root, but to me this seems a bit unlikely.
So how does one use it?
In the West the most popular uses are as the creamy sauce we all know as used with roast beef (ever think how dull an Arby's Roast Beef sandwich would be without 'horsey sauce'?), as well as an English condiment called Tewkesbury Sauce or Tewkesbury Mustard. From Shakespeare's Henry V, Part II: "His wit's as thick as Tewkesbury Mustard." (Falstaff).
It's a common ingredient in cocktail sauce and Bloody Mary cocktails, and in Japan it is sometimes dyed green as a substitute for wasabi. Indeed the Japanese name for horseradish, seiyōwasabi , literally means "Western wasabi".
It is in Eastern Europe and Russia that we find the most prevalent usage. In Middle and Eastern Europe horseradish is called khreyn (in various spellings) in many Slavic languages, in German in Austria and parts of Germany, and in Yiddish. There are two varieties of khreyn. "Red" khreyn is mixed with red beet (beetroot) and "white" khreyn contains no beet. It is popular in Ukraine (under the name of хрін, khrin), in Poland (under the name of chrzan), in Russia (хрен, khren), in Hungary (torma), in Romania (hrean), and in Bulgaria (хрян, khryan). Having this on the table is a part of Christian Easter and Jewish Passover tradition in Eastern and Central Europe. A variety with red beet is called ćwikła z chrzanem or simply ćwikła in Poland. In Ashkenazi European Jewish cooking beet horseradish is commonly served with Gefilte fish. Red beet with horseradish is also used as a salad served with lamb dishes at Easter called 'sfecla cu hrean' in Transylvania and other Romanian regions. Horseradish (often grated and mixed with cream, hard-boiled eggs, or apples) is also a traditional Easter dish in Slovenia and in the adjacent Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. In Croatia freshly grated horseradish is often eaten with boiled ham or beef. In Serbia ren is an essential condiment with cooked meat and freshly roasted suckling pig.
Horseradish is also used as a main ingredient for soups. In the Polish region of Silesia, horseradish soup is a common Easter Day dish.
How do you make your own horseradish sauce?
The simplest way I've found is this:
15g/½oz freshly grated horseradish, soaked in 2 tbsp hot water
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
pinch of English mustard powder
pinch of caster sugar
salt and pepper to taste
150ml/5fl oz double cream, lightly whipped
All you do is to drain the soaked horseradish and then combine with all the other ingredients.
What else can we do with it?
Try these Shropshire Scones. You serve these with gooseberry jam and smoked mackerel pate.
50g/2oz butter, plus extra for greasing
200g/7oz self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tsp baking powder
1 large chunk fresh horseradish root, or to taste, peeled and grated
150ml/5fl oz full-fat milk
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. In a large mixing bowl, rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then stir in the baking powder and horseradish, to taste. Stir in enough of the milk to bring the mixture together as a stiff (but not dry) dough. Set aside to rest for five minutes.
Using your fingers, press the dough onto a lightly floured work surface into a rough square, about 5cm/2in thick. Use a pastry cutter to cut out round scones from the dough until all of the dough has been used up. Transfer to a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until risen and golden-brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Ever made baked potato wedges? Try tossing them in some prepared horseradish sauce and mustard and then sprinkling with Parmesan before baking... yum!
Alright, how about something REALLY different...?
Horseradish Ice Cream with Red Tomato Vinaigrette
Number of Servings: 10 Appetizer Serving
2 Cups Whole milk
2 Cups Whipping cream
10 Large egg yolks
1 Tsp. Salt
6 Vine ripened beefsteak tomatoes
2 Tbsp. Red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. White vinegar
1/2 Tsp. Mild chili powder
1 Clove Garlic, finely minced
1/2 Tsp. Kosher salt, or to taste
2 Sprigs Fresh tarragon (leaves only) or 1 Tsp. Crumbled dried tarragon
1 Tsp. Freshly coarsely ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. Extra-Virgin olive oil
Whisk together the milk and cream in a heavy pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisk together the egg yolks, horseradish and salt in a bowl. Add the milk mixture gradually, whisking constantly, then pour the mixture back into the pan onto very low heat, whisking all the time over the heat until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. DO NOT let mixture boil. Pour mixture into a medium bowl set into a larger bowl filled with ice and beat the mixture for about 3 minutes to cool it. Once cool, pour half the mixture into an ice cream maker and churn until ready; transfer to a freezing container and hold in the freezer while processing the remaining mixture. Meanwhile, quarter the tomatoes and chop them roughly. Place in a food processor with the remaining ingredients, except the olive oil. Blend until pureed. Gradually add the olive oil and blend for 1 minute. Strain the mixture to remove skin and seeds, pressing down hard to extract all the juices. Put the vinaigrette into a bowl with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Shake well, and pour a little tomato vinaigrette into the bottom of small ramekins or bowls. With a melon scooper, scoop out small balls of horseradish ice cream and arrange them on top of the vinaigrette. Dish may be garnished with cracked pepper, or small tomato-skin roses and fresh herb leaves, as desired.
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