BY NICK MACMAHON | 10 OCTOBER 2019
Some say celery-ack, some say suh-leh-ree-ack. This ugly ball of dirt and tentacles is the bulbous root from a variety of celery plant. Interestingly, there are three distinct varieties of the celery plant, each variety is grown for either its bulbous root (celeriac), stalks (celery) or leafy greens (leaf celery). You will find celeriac and celery around, but leaf celery is mostly grown in East Asia. It has a stronger flavour and is used for soups and pickles.
The celeriac is a pretty gnarly looking vegetable, but peel off the outer layer to reveal its bright, white flesh. You can then cut it up as you like. Be aware, like other white vegetables (fennel, salsify) it will turn brown quickly when exposed to air. Prevent this by keeping the celeriac in a bowl of water with a splash of vinegar as you peel it.
Classically, celeriac is often prepared as celeriac mash, usually served as an accompaniment to beef. Another popular use is for the French version of coleslaw, Remoulade, a salad of thinly-sliced, raw celeriac mixed with mayonnaise, dijon mustard, and lemon juice. This is often served as a salad on its own or alongside charcuterie or grilled meat.
Celeriac is pretty tough and fibrous so if you are eating it raw it is best cut thinly and dressed as quickly as possible to prevent browning. A simple lemon and olive oil dressing works well. The flavour of raw celeriac is, unsurprisingly, like celery and fairly lacklustre. So, it’s a good vehicle for bold flavours like dijon mustard and lemon juice, as in a remoulade.
Cooked celeriac is totally different to eat raw. Like carrots and other root vegetables, boiling or roasting really brings out the sweetness. Cooked celeriac is great on its own or as a side dish, but if you want to balance out the sweetness, pair with something sour/bitter. Rocket salad with lemon dressing is a pretty easy way to do this.
If you do roast celeriac in the oven, it will become very soft and very sweet. Sweetness isn’t always such a desirable characteristic if your intention is to make a savoury dish. To combat this, one method is to cook it under the grill until it is starting to brown but not totally cooked through. 15 minutes under a really hot grill and you will get slight charring, providing a subtle sweetness while still keeping a firm texture and that root vegetable savouriness.
The celeriac part of the plant keeps for months in a cool environment but does lose flavour with age and can dry out and get woody. If you’re lucky, you can find fresh celeriac with the stalks and leaves still attached. This is a good sign that your celeriac is fresh and you also get extra stalks and leaves to use.
The stalks from celeriac are usually pretty sub-par compared to regular celery, but they will still do the job in a mirepoix or stock. The leaves are the same as usual celery leaves, so use them as you would normally. They are very fragrant and great for adding to salads or soups or even turning into a celery leaf pesto.