Celery is a leafy green vegetable whose roots, stalks, leaves, and seeds can be used in the kitchen. It's popular in North American, European, Asian, and African cuisines. The most commonly used part of celery is the stalk, which is used in soups, sauces, salads and can be eaten either raw or cooked. The root can be boiled, mashed, shredded, roasted, and steamed.
What Is Celery?
Celery is a herbaceous plant, in the botanical family Apiaceae, which also includes parsley, carrots, dill, and fennel. The plants that are cultivated for their roots, known as celeriac, are a distinct variety from those that are cultivated for their stalks. They're the same genus and species, though. Apium graveolens var. graveolens is the cultivar raised for its stalks, while Apium graveolens var. rapaceum is the plant that gives us celeriac. We discuss celeriac separately, so for this article, we'll focus on the parts of the plant above the root.
The celery plant produces long, fibrous stalks that are crunchy, juicy, and aromatic, with a grassy, sweet, spicy flavor. It's regarded as a so-called "aromatic" vegetable, like onions and carrots, and is widely used in classical cuisine as one of the three components of mirepoix (along with onions and carrots). Similarly, celery is also combined with onions and bell peppers to make up the "holy trinity" of Cajun cuisine. These mixtures are generally sautéed or roasted, and form the flavor base of innumerable sauces, soups, stocks, broths, stews, and other dishes.
Celery is also a common ingredient in soups, casseroles, stuffings, salads, slaws, braised and roasted meat dishes, and stir-frys. In addition to its stalks and its roots, celery seeds can be dried and used as a spice, in both its whole and ground forms; and the leaves can be used as an aromatic vegetable in many dishes, as well as dried and used as a seasoning.
How to Cook With Celery
As an aside, botanically speaking, the entire "bunch" of celery is referred to as the stalk, while each individual section, what most of us would call a single stalk, is actually called a rib. In practice, however, no recipe that calls for one stalk of celery is asking you to use the entire bunch of celery. So in the kitchen, you can use the words "stalk" and "rib" interchangeably and have confidence that a recipe that calls for a single "stalk" of celery means just that: one stalk or rib.
Most dishes that include celery don't necessarily feature it as the primary ingredient of the dish, but rather as a supporting player. As such, preparing it generally involves separating the individual stalks or ribs from the main bunch, washing them, trimming away the white part at the bottom, removing the smaller branches and leaves, and then slicing or chopping the rib into bite-sized pieces, thin slivers, or whatever the recipe calls for. Some cooks used to peel away the fibers from the outside of the stalks before cooking or serving, but this practice is pretty rare these days.
Cooking celery brings out the sweetness and eliminates its slight bitterness. One way to prepare celery that does feature it as the main ingredient is braised celery. To prepare it, you'd wash and trim the individual stalks as described above, then slice them diagonally into bite-sized chunks. Next, sauté it in butter or oil for a few minutes, until it starts to soften, then add a small amount (like around 3/4 of a cup) of hot stock, such as chicken or vegetable stock, cover the pan and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated. You can remove the lid for the last few minutes of cooking to accelerate this. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and garnish with reserved celery leaves.
What Does It Taste Like?
Celery has a grassy, herbaceous, taste with alternately peppery, bitter, and salty notes. Cooking tends to mellow the intensity of its flavor, particularly its bitterness, while enhancing its innate sweetness.
In most recipes, celery plays at best a supporting role. But here are a few recipes that feature celery.
Where to Buy Celery
Celery is widely available at supermarket produce sections year-round, as well as at farmers' markets.
Celery will go limp if it isn't refrigerated. Your best bet is to remove it from the plastic produce bag you brought it home in, remove the band holding the bunch together, wrap the bunch loosely in paper towels, and store it in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, on the humid setting, where it will stay fresh for about a week.