A Lowly Root, Elevated

The celery root is a gnarly beast. Pick one up and you’ll notice what seems to be a softball-sized ball - its surface pocked and scarred by months of slow-growing in the dirt. And that dirt, it has become a part of it. The fine roots at the bottom still grasp a silt too fine to brush away but too coarse to let go of. There is no amount of washing that will render it free of earth. This is a root that makes it hard to imagine any level of cuisine above peasant status. 

There are other roots that seem lofty. The potato, with its silky cooked flesh. The Japanese turnip with its perfectly round, snow-white sphere and crisp green shoots. These roots make sense on a celebratory, elevated, holiday table. But the celery root? To make that thing worthy of your guests, it seems, will take some doing.

Of course, the French had figured out exactly how to take a lowly root and magically peel and julienne it into a dish fit for kings. And once you realize what they’ve done, you see it’s not magic at all: It’s mayonnaise.

Céleri Rémoulade is a standard at my table this time of year. A lowly, dirty root, tossed with a super-flavorful mayonnaise with capers and herbs, becomes a starter that always, always raises eyebrows. IK

Céleri Rémoulade

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds celery root
1/2 cup mayonnaise (homemade or store bought)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/4 mixed herbs such as; chervil, parsley, celery leaves, chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim the root end of the celery root. Peel the celery root with a vegetable peeler, then slice it very thinly (about 1/8th of an inch thick) using a slicer. Stack the slices, then cut them into long matchsticks.

Whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire, capers, herbs and salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the celery root. Serve as a first course with salad greens.

Ian KnauerComment