I always thought that I didn’t like horseradish sauce. That belief was squashed when I was served a sandwich that had a fiery but pleasing taste to it. “That’s the horseradish”, I was told.
Horseradish has been cultivated since antiquity and for three thousand years we have been grating the roots to use as a hot, spicy condiment. It has been used as an aphrodisiac, a treatment for rheumatism, a bitter herb for Passover seders and a flavorful accompaniment for beef, chicken and seafood. A member of the mustard family, the root releases a distinctive aroma when bruised or cut and has a very hot, peppery flavour which is far more powerful than mustard.
Horseradish is a hardy perennial that’s easy to grow, although it spreads aggressively. No matter how badly you treat the plant when digging the roots, the plant is sure to come back in the spring. One plant is sufficient for most families. It’s not a pretty plant and looks a bit ragged by the end of summer. Think carefully before choosing a spot… it’ll be there for good!
Well, it just so happens that I planted a clump of horseradish in the garden a few years back, so I decided it was time to dig some roots and give it a try. I’ve read that cool soil promotes the formation of compounds that give the roots their pungency. With that in mind, I waited until the end of November to harvest some roots, just before the ground started to freeze. With the weather we’ve had this week, the ground is now well and truly frozen. It’ll be spring before I can get a fork in the ground again!
I washed the roots, patted them dry, and placed them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Unpeeled roots give off hardly any aroma, and will store in the refrigerator for several weeks.
It’s been a cold, snowy week here this week. It seemed like a good time to turn those roots into a sauce.
Here’s what I did:
Before making a sauce, the roots need to be prepared. Simply peel the roots, mince finely in a food processor and add to white vinegar. The compounds in horseradish are activated by a few minutes of exposure to air. When the flesh is exposed to air, enzymes cause substances in the roots to change to spicy mustard oil. Submerging the grated root in vinegar stops the process. For a mild sauce wait 3-4 minutes but if you like a hotter sauce, then wait a little longer before adding to the vinegar.
Also be aware that fresh horseradish root is potent stuff and can really hurt your eyes, so handle with care! Ideally, I would do this outside or in a well-ventilated room, but this week has not been the time for standing around outside. I just handled it very gingerly at arm’s length.
Preparing the horseradish
- 4 ounces horseradish root, peeled and cut into 1-2 inch chunks
- 3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Prepared horseradish roots will keep in the refrigerator for a month, and can be used to whip up a creamy sauce when you need it.
Making horseradish sauce
- 1 cup sour cream
- ¼ cup prepared horseradish roots
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- Combine all the ingredients in a glass bowl. Stir until well mixed.
- Refrigerate for at least two hours to let the flavors come together.
- Serve at room temperature.
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