If you've only ever had jarred horseradish you need to give yourself a treat and try the real stuff. Bright and pungent, without the bitter aftertaste sometimes found in jarred versions, fresh horseradish perks up any meal and is especially good with the heavier roasts and stews of cold weather cooking. Its bite can also add a lovely kick to gentle spring cooking and bring out the best in summer grilling.
What Is Horseradish?
Horseradish is a member of the mustard family, along with kale and turnips, so not surprising it has a bite. Its greens are edible and sometimes available at farmers markets. It's the horseradish root that is cultivated and sold. Horseradish is perennial and grows in hardiness zones 2 through 9.
Horseradish has been cultivated since antiquity. Pliny and other ancient historians mention it in writings. Pictures of it are represented in murals on the walls in Pompeii. In Medieval times, it was used medicinally. American forefathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson mention horseradish in their gardening accounts.
When Is Horseradish Season?
Horseradish is at its best in fall and winter. Like so many other root vegetables it stores well and is often available well into spring.
How It Is Used
The easiest way to use horseradish is to simply cut off the brown peel and shred or grate some fresh horseradish to serve with roasted meats or as a flavoring for hearty soups or stews. Shred as close to serving time as possible, since horseradish turns bitter and discolors within a few hours.
Also, freshly shredded horseradish makes a great addition to mashed potatoes or as a condiment with a medley of roasted root vegetables.
You can also make horseradish cream and add it as a delightful swirl into thick soups or serve in place of traditional creamed horseradish.
Horseradish is a mixologists delight, too. Once you have had it, it is hard to forget the power of the pungency in horseradish-infused vodka. Serve it ice cold alongside gravlax or pop it in a bloody mary.
How to Pick It
Choose firm roots with cut ends that look fresh. The large, white, tapered root of horseradish is covered with a somewhat hairy brown peel. Avoid any wilted, desiccated, or soft specimens.
How It Is Stored
Store horseradish loosely wrapped in plastic in the crisper of the fridge. Fresh horseradish will keep several weeks. Cut pieces, however, should be used immediately, as horseradish turns bitter once cut or grated (the larger piece can be re-wrapped and stored, just cut off and discard the previously cut end before using).
For longer-term storage, cut horseradish into one-inch pieces and store it sealed in plastic in the freezer. Whenever you want a hit of this pungent root, grab a chunk and grate it.
Another way to keep fresh horseradish around is to peel it, cut it into chunks, put the chunks into a sealable jar, and cover the horseradish with vinegar. The flavor will soften as it's stored, but it will keep some of its kick and you'll have a wonderfully aromatic horseradish vinegar to use as well.