Horseradish: Although a favourable ingredient of the Egyptians and early Greeks mainly for medicinal purposes, it wasn’t until the 1600s when the British saw it for its flavour-enhancing properties, that it became more than a cold-cure. Naturally becoming flavour friends with beef and oysters, horseradish is now seen as a vital component in many British dishes.
This perennial plant belongs the brassica family with relatives including cabbage, broccoli, mustard and wasabi. Grown purely for its tapered root, horseradish is harvested both in spring and autumn and is a simple root to grow at home. There are perils that come with horseradish be warned, however! Horseradish is known as an invasive plant so think wisely when establishing it in your allotment.
When whole, horseradish is rather understated, with pale, mottled skin and carries no aroma. It is not until you cut into the root and the plant cells are broken that the root releases its distinct smell and pungency that can bring a tear to your eye!
Seasonal period: Harvested in Spring and Autumn
Flavour friends: Horseradish has an extremely hot, peppery flavour that should be used in moderation. The more the root is cut, bruised or grated, the greater its intensity, so consider the way in which it is served with other ingredients. Bold, rich flavours can handle the heat better, so look to pair with red meat and distinctly salty, raw seafood – this is where its classic pairings with beef and oysters come from.
Other pungent flavours such as smoked food, piquant cheeses and spicy tomato sauces will all happily stand up to the fiery nature of horseradish.
Buying, storing and preparing: Seek firm roots that have little damage to the skin. There must be no mould or overly green areas which show signs of sprouting – this indicated an old root that has not been freshly picked. Horseradish is best used as soon after harvesting as possible, therefore only buy as much as required.
Horseradish, however, will keep in the fridge for up to one week, although only wash and peel once ready to use. Once cut or grated, use immediately as it will become discoloured and develop a bitter, unpalatable flavour.
When ready to use, wash thoroughly and scrub off the skin using a stiff brush. Note, the more finely grated or chopped the horseradish, the more intense the flavour
Words by Helen Upshall