Armoracia rusticana, better known as horseradish is a perennial herb native to Europe and Asia belonging to the cabbage and mustard family. It is a small plant, reaching a height of one metre, bearing white flowers. The fleshy roots of the plant are harvested and made into a condiment that is a traditional accompaniment to red meat. The fresh horseradish root varies in size from that of a human finger up to a large carrot.
Uncut horseradish is as innocuous as any other root vegetable, however once prepared it takes on a pungent, sinus-hammering alter ego. The reason for this pungency lies with isothiocyanates, compounds released only when the tissue structure of the root is damaged. Hence, all prepared horseradish is found grated or pureed.
There are numerous brands of bottled horseradish available and most people seem to have their favourite, but as always, the home made product is superior. If you can manage to find horseradish root at your greengrocer, here is a method on how to deal with it.
Peel the roots and clean them of any grit. Using a cheese grater, grate the horseradish on the coarsest holes. Place the horseradish in a kitchen blender with a small amount of white wine vinegar and puree, using a little more vinegar if required. Store in the refrigerator and it will last for months. Now, I have read that acid has a negative effect on the pungency of isothiocyanates, but I have never had any trouble with this method, sniff it and see. NO. I am only kidding! Do not sniff freshly pureed horseradish unless you want to lie down for a while.
You can serve it as is, alongside roasted and grilled meats, but it is extremely strong. Try mellowing it a little by mixing together with equal quantities of sour cream or creme fraiche.
- As an aside, I have heard that many commercial preparations of the Japanese horseradish Wasabi, Wasabia japonica are simply European horseradish with a bit of green food colouring. This is no doubt due to the exorbitant cost of fresh wasabi root - $150 AU per kilogram the last time I shelled out for it.