Celeriac (aka celery root or knob celery) is the exotic cousin to the familiar green stalks we see at every grocery store. This plant is grown for the root rather than the stalk. That knobby, white ball has a similar flavor to stalk celery but is sweeter, less tannic, and creamy. Don’t be put off by its humble appearance. Under those snaky roots and speckled skin a silky root lies in wait.
Celeriac goes into the ground after the threat of Spring frost has passed, though it doesn’t show up to market until early Fall. While growing, it sends up shoots that look like mini, dark green celery. Eat the stems for the most intense celery experience of your life. These stalks are too strong to slather with peanut butter for an afternoon snack, but they’re the perfect addition for stock or under a roast chicken. It takes all summer for the root to plump up, but, lucky for winter market goers, celeriac is a great storage crop and will be around long into the cold.
When buying, look for a firm ball that is not spongy when squeezed. There will be spots of brown on the skin where the tangled mat of roots that surround the bulb have been cut. This is normal, as is some greening on the shoulders—unlike potatoes, this greening is not an indication of improper storage or at all dangerous to eat.
To prepare the bulb, cut off the top and bottom to level. Then with a knife, cut down from top to the bottom following the curvature of the bulb—like cutting the rind off a melon or orange. Cut deep enough to take away the brown outer skin but shallow enough to keep as much of the flesh as possible. Vegetable peelers are generally not strong enough to take off the skin. The celeriac flesh browns quickly when exposed to air, so after you are done cutting toss the prepped bits in some lemon juice or water with a splash of vinegar. (Or let it go a little brown.)
Celery root is extremely versatile. When eaten raw, the mild astringency of celery pairs with crunch similar to raw carrots. When cooked, the flavor of celery doesn’t go away, but the starches in the root mellow the flavor and make a beautifully silky, never-gluey mash or soup.
I love substituting this puree for mashed potatoes. The texture is smoother, the celery root has a more refreshing flavor than potato, and it is quicker and less temperamental. Remember, the smaller you cut the celery root the faster it will cook. Unlike potatoes, celery root is only approximately 5% starch by weight, and so you can blend and blend and it will not get thick and gluey. Similar to the raw slaw, adding a bit of fat to the celery root makes the dish feel rich and creamy without becoming fat-overload. Plus, in the middle of winter another option to potatoes is always a welcome change.
- 2 large celeriac
- 1 onion, sliced thinly
- 2 T butter or olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 C water or stock
- ½ C cream
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the onion and salt. Cook till soft trying not to brown the onions.
- Peel and cut the celeriac into medium sized chunks.
- Add the celeriac to the onions, toss to coat and then add the water or stock.
- Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook until the celeriac is tender and smashes when pressed with the back of a spoon. If the mixture gets too dry, add some more liquid or cover with a lid.
- Transfer to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.
- Add the cream and pepper and stir to combine. Add more or less depending on if you want it thicker or thinner.
- This can be made in advance and then rewarmed in a casserole dish in a hot oven. It is also very good cold on an open-faced sandwich with tuna or beets on top.
Like a classic coleslaw, this recipe is based around combining raw veg with enough fat to make it rich and appealing. Because there is so little else in this than celeriac and mayo, it is worth the time to make homemade mayonnaise. If you’ve never made mayo, give it a try. The flavor is quite different than the store-bought brand, but if you’re really not interested, substitute approximately 2 C regular mayonnaise while adding the additional lemon and mustard. The reason to use both a neutral oil and olive oil is that olive oil alone makes a very intense and sometimes “too-bitter-for-everyone” mayo. Using only a neutral oil is a little flat in comparison. I like the mix. Instead of cutting the celery root into batons, you can grate it on the large size of a box grater. I prefer to cut by hand because you do less damage to the cell walls of the vegetable, which means they will leach out less water. I also like the larger pieces of celeriac to keep the inviting crunch.
- 2 large celeriac
- 1 egg
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- 1 T Dijon mustard
- ½ tsp salt
- 8 oz neutral oil (I generally use sunflower or canola)
- 4 oz olive oil
- ½ tsp fresh black pepper
- 1 bunch of parsley, washed and chopped
- In a food processor in in a bowl with a whisk, whisk together the egg, lemon zest and juice, mustard and salt until well mixed.
- Slowly in a thin stream drizzle in the neutral oil then the olive oil. The mixture will thicken into lovely golden mayonnaise.
- Taste the mayo it should be lemony and bright. If it tastes at all flabby, add a pinch or two more salt and extra lemon or a splash of vinegar.
- Transfer the mayo to the fridge to cool down.
- Cut the skin from the celeriac and then cut into batons by cutting ¼” slabs from the celery root and then cutting each slab into ¼” wide lengths and voila batons.
- Soon after cutting, toss the celery root with a good size glob of mayo, the chopped parsley and pepper. Mix to coat the celery root and combine evenly.
- Serve atop seared fish, next to roast chicken or as the creamy balance to a green salad.