In the produce aisle of Martin’s Super Markets, I spotted the knobby dark root.
There was no label, no price. But a stalk of horseradish went in the basket.
I think it cost me a buck. And I had the makings of a cooking project in the garage.
The white condiment isn’t hard to find in a jar, but I wanted to make my own. I remembered years ago when a friend made some upstairs in the house I was living in and nearly prompted our evacuation because of the fumes. But oh did the stuff taste good.
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Making horseradish is simple. The Internet and past experience told me so. It comes of the ground, like a carrot or parsnip. And then you have to get it ground somehow, probably with a blender or food processor. Add vinegar. But as with anything, it’s the details that you don’t know that make food experimentation fun.
I peeled the root. It has a knobby end and a shaft. Yes, you can make jokes. But I just peeled with a y-shaped vegetable peeler and a knife. I removed anything dark. I put the pieces of white, starchy stuff in the blender with a little water and whirred away.
You don’t want horseradish mush, but this root was tough and fibrous. The sharp blades whittled it into bits. And by the way, I blended the horseradish in the garage.
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Then comes the difficult part of not knowing the order of when to do what. The last step is adding vinegar, but when you do so affects how spicy the horseradish is.
The post by Daniel Gritzer on seriouseats.com, one of the best food sites online, said,
“See, the horseradish root usually keeps its harsh isothiocyanates safely contained in its cell walls under chemical lock and key. When the cells are damaged, enzymes in the root are able to free the isothiocyanates. Think of it like a jailbreak, where the isothiocyanates are prisoners and the enzymes are an outside team tasked with freeing them. The blender or food processor (or even a metal box grater, if you want to do it manually) is like the dynamite used to blow the prison walls open. Once they’re open, the more time the enzymes have to work their way through the prison and free those prisoners, the more prisoners will escape, making the air and flavor even more pungent.
“So, the longer you wait to add the vinegar, the stronger the horseradish will get.”
So I waited five or 10 minutes. I added champagne vinegar because I didn’t have white distilled vinegar. (I tend to only use white vinegar for cleaning anyway.) I added enough vinegar to cover the 1 ½ pints of horseradish and tasted.
It wasn’t as spicy as I hoped. It has a sweet flavor and some heat, but not anywhere close to the nose-opening, eye-watering possibilities. The flavor is a bit sweet and I have since realized I also forgot to add salt.
Joe Kuharic, our Flavor editor, tasted the horseradish too, and his father, another Joe, said to wait a bit longer next time.
It’s good, but it’s a first effort and now I have a lot of it. It’s going in hummus (thanks for the idea, Trader Joe’s) and other things.
Cook and learn. There’s always a next time.