Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Herb of the Week and Year - Horseradish, part 1

International Herb Association and the National Herb Society have announced the Horseradish will be the 2011 Herb of the Year. They recommend that everyone try to grow or use this wonderful herb!  Many people know little about this unique and strongly flavorful herb, so I decided to dedicate two weeks to discussing its use, growth and helpful properties.

This week's Herb of the Week is Horseradish!

People either love horseradish or they hate it. One bite of pungent prepared horseradish is enough to clear out anyone's sinuses. Hotter than the popular Japanese version of wasabi, horseradish is easy to grow and easy to prepare.

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana, syn. Cochlearia armoracia) is a perennial plant of the Brassicacae 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 five feet tall and is mainly cultivated for its large white, tapered root.

The intact horseradish root has hardly any aroma. When cut or grated, however, enzymes from the damaged plant cells break down to produce mustard oil, which irritates the sinuses and eyes. Once grated, if not used immediately or mixed in vinegar, the root darkens and loses its pungency and becomes unpleasantly bitter when exposed to air and heat.

How to Grow
Horseradish is perennial in hardiness zones 2–9 and can be grown as an annual in other zones, though not as successfully as in zones with both a long growing season and winter temperatures cold enough to ensure plant dormancy.  
Buy plants or roots at the nursery (horseradish is rarely grown from seed) for planting after the last frost in spring.  Choose a site for location rather than growing conditions - a spot far removed from any other plants you care about. Left to its own devices, horseradish will stampede through your garden. But it will grow in any circumstances except deep shade or constant wetness. 
Ensure the straightest, plumpest roots by tilling the soil to at least 12 inches, amending it with plenty of compost and removing all rocks and other obstructions.  Set plants or roots 9 to 18 inches apart, with the crown (the top of the root and the start of the top growth) about 4 inches below the soil surface, and water thoroughly.  Mulch to retain moisture and discourage weeds if you want to, but it's not necessary - horseradish thrives on neglect.  Dig horseradish roots anytime from midsummer on, but for best flavor wait until after the first frosts.

Commercial production
Although grown in many regions of the world, Collinsville, Illinois, is the self-proclaimed "Horseradish Capital of the World" and hosts an annual International Horseradish Festival each June. Collinsville produces 60%, and the surrounding area of southwestern Illinois 25% of the world's commercially grown horseradish. Other major US growing regions include Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Tylelakem, California. Apart from these US areas, horseradish is also produced in Europe and South Australia.

Pests and diseases
Widely introduced by accident, "cabbageworms", the larvae of Artogeia rapae, the Small White Butterfly, are a common caterpillar pest in horseradish. The adults are white butterflies with black spots on the forewings that are commonly seen flying around plants during the day. The caterpillars are velvety green with faint yellow stripes running lengthwise down the back and sides. Full grown caterpillars are about 1 inch in length. They move sluggishly when prodded. They overwinter in green pupal cases. Adults start appearing in gardens after the last frost and are a problem through the remainder of the growing season. There are 3 to 5 overlapping generations a year. Mature caterpillars chew large, ragged holes in the leaves leaving the large veins intact. Handpicking is an effective control strategy.

To Use
After the first frost in the autumn kills the leaves, the root is dug and divided. The main root is harvested and one or more large offshoots of the main root are replanted to produce next year's crop. Horseradish left undisturbed in the garden spreads via underground shoots and can become invasive. Older roots left in the ground become woody, after which they are no longer useful for cooking, although these older plants can be dug and divided to start new plants.

Culinary Uses
Cooks use the terms "horseradish" or "prepared horseradish" to refer to the grated root of the horseradish plant mixed with vinegar. Prepared horseradish is white to creamy-beige in color. It will keep for months refrigerated but eventually will start to darken, indicating it is losing flavor and should be replaced. The leaves of the plant, while edible, are not commonly eaten, and are referred to as "horseradish greens".
Horseradish sauce made from grated horseradish root, vinegar and cream is a popular condiment in the United Kingdom. It is usually served with roast beef, often as part of a traditional Sunday roast, but can be used in a number of other dishes also, including sandwiches or salads. Also popular in the UK is Tewkesbury mustard, a blend of mustard and grated horseradish originally created in medieval times and mentioned by Shakespeare.
In the U.S., the term Horseradish Sauce refers to grated horseradish combined with mayonnaise or white salad dressing (like Miracle Whip). Most grocery stores sell this type of Horseradish Sauce.

How to make Prepared Horseradish
   8-10-inch long piece of horseradish root
   2 Tbsp. water
   1 Tbsp. white vinegar
   Pinch salt
1.      If you have access to a garden horseradish plant, use a sturdy shovel to dig up an 8-10-inch long tuber of horseradish. (You can't pull it up.) The plant itself, once established, propagates with tubers, and is very hardy. Remove the leaves from the root and rinse the dirt off of the root.
2.      Use a vegetable peeler to peel the surface skin off of the tuber. You want to get off the brown parts.  Chop into pieces.
3.      Put into a food processor. Add a couple tablespoons of water. Process until well ground. At this point be careful. A ground up fresh horseradish is many times as potent as freshly chopped onions and can really hurt your eyes if you get too close. Keep at arms length away, and work in a well ventilated room (I actually go to the trouble of getting an extension cord and dragging all my tools outside to do this step so my house does not absorb the smells.)
4.      Strain out some of the water if the mixture is too liquidy. Add a tablespoon of white vinegar and a pinch of salt to the mixture. Pulse to combine. Note that the vinegar will stabilize the level of hotness of the ground horseradish, so do not wait too long to add it to the mixture.
5.      Using a rubber spatula, carefully transfer the grated horseradish to a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. It will keep for up to 6 weeks in the refrigerator. (I store mine upside down so no additional oxygen gets into the jar to help hold the flavor.) It can be frozen.

Horseradish Cooking Tips and Measures (many retrieved from
• Horseradish is best used freshly grated and raw.

• Scrub with a stiff brush and peel off the dark skin before using horseradish.

• In larger roots, the core may be fibrous and bitter. Remove and discard the core, along with any green spots.

• Horseradish is like the onion family -- the finer it is chopped or grated, the more pungent the flavor.

• Fold 1 Tablespoon fresh grated horseradish into stiffly-whipped heavy cream and salt to taste for a classic horseradish sauce to accompany beef dishes. Dill weed is also a tasty addition.

• Add 1 Tablespoon fresh grated horseradish to 1 cup applesauce for a piquant condiment to pork dishes. See below a recipe for Horseradish Apples.

• When serving horseradish, do not use silver. Horseradish will tarnish silver.

• If you grow your horseradish, the young, tender green leaves are edible in salads and may also be cooked.

• If you want to retain the spicy zing of horseradish in cooked dishes, add it at the end of the cooking process, after the dish has been removed from the heat.

   Horseradish Measures, Weights, and Substitutions
• 1 Tablespoon grated fresh horseradish = 2 Tbsp bottled prepared horseradish
• 2 Tablespoons prepared horseradish = 1 Tablespoon dried + 1 Tablespoon vinegar + 1 Tablespoon water + salt to taste
• 10 Tablespoons prepared horseradish = 6 Tablespoons dried powdered
• 1-1/2 pounds fresh root = 2-3/4 cups peeled and grated
• 1 8-ounce bottle prepared horseradish = 1 cup

Recipes (look for even more next week!)

Horseradish Butter
Use this as a spread on pork or beef sandwiches

8  Tbls.  (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2  Tbls. prepared horseradish
1/4  teaspoon  kosher salt

Place the butter in a small bowl. Add the horseradish and salt and mash with a wooden spoon to combine. Chill the butter until needed, but allow it to come to room temperature before spreading.

Horseradish Salsa
The perfect spicy condiment to go with beef

1 jar (16-ounce) mild salsa
1/2 cup (loosely packed) fresh parsley leaves, chopped
2 Tbls. prepared white horseradish

In small bowl, mix salsa, parsley, and horseradish until combined. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve or up to two days.

Horseradish Vinaigrette

¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup horseradish sauce
½ cup olive oil
1 tsp. pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, mustard, olive oil and black pepper. The dressing should come out a little creamy but not too thick.

Horseradish Apples
Naturally sweet from the apples with a bit of zing from the horseradish, this no-cook sauce is excellent served as a condiment for pork dishes.

4 Granny Smith apples
2 Tbls. cider vinegar
2 Tbls. fresh horseradish, grated
1 tsp. paprika
1 Tbls. white wine

Grate the apples and moisten them with vinegar. Add the horseradish and paprika. Thin to the desired consistency with the wine. Yield: 1 pint

Horseradish Stuffed Roast Beef Serves 4-6

2 lb. Roast beef
Salt, pepper
2 Tbsp. Flour
4 Tbsp. Oil
4 Tbsp. Prepared horseradish
6 Tbsp. Sour cream
2 Eggs
3 Tbsp. Breadcrumbs

Rinse and dry roast. Rub with salt and pepper and coat with flour. Brown in hot oil in a Dutch oven. Add 1 Cup water and braise covered for 1 hour. Add more water as necessary. For filling, mix horseradish, sour cream, eggs and breadcrumbs. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Remove the roast from pan, let cool, cut in 1/2 inch slices nearly to the bottom. Spread filling between slices. Tie lengthwise with sting. Return meat to the Dutch oven and braise 15 minutes. Before serving, remove string and pour pan drippings over meat.

Come back next week when we will go a bit deeper into the history, provide a number of other recipes, and discuss the medicinal aspects of Horseradish. 

If you want to try a couple of dips and spreads with powdered horseradish, visit our eBay store  

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