Chef Column: The heavenly pleasures of horseradish

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO Pete Danowski, pictured above, is one of the founders of Riverhead's annual horseradish fest.

For the past 30 years Peter and Sue Danowski have welcomed spring with the simple ritual of preparing horseradish. Over 20 bushels of the brown, craggy root are brought to the barn in a field off Herricks Lane in Riverhead. Groups of local volunteers sit on stools and peel the roots, then pass them on to others, who cut them into chunks. At this point there isn’t much aroma, but the next group of hearty volunteers run them through meat grinders and the pungent, sinus-clearing, eye-watering chemical reaction begins.

The chopped horseradish is taken to the food processors, where a new group adds vinegar and lemon juice and processes the mixture to a coarse meal. This is when the air becomes full of the beautiful smell of a spicy spring experience that cries out for oysters, clams — and kielbasa. People line up with glass Mason jars to get their freshly prepared horseradish. Amazingly, there is no charge. You just have to know Peter and Sue Danowski and find their barn on the Wednesday before Easter. Here are a few ideas for using your horseradish, and if you missed the festival, how you can make your own.

Prepared Horseradish
Peel one fresh horseradish root and trim the rough spots. Cut it into half-inch cubes and place them in a food processor (you should have about 1 1/2 cups). Pulse to break up the cubes and add 1/4 cup cider vinegar and the juice from one lemon. Process until smooth, adding a little more vinegar if it appears dry. Add a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon sugar if desired. Place in a glass Mason jar, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Apple Horseradish Relish
Peel 4 Granny Smith apples and grate into a bowl. Toss apples with 2 tablespoons cider vinegar to prevent browning. Stir in 1/4 cup of prepared horseradish (above) and 2 tablespoons white wine. Season with a pinch of salt. Serve with pork chops, roast pork or chicken.

Cold Horseradish Sauce
for Smoked Fish

Whip 1 cup heavy cream until soft peaks form. Fold in 1/4 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup shredded fresh horseradish, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Serve with smoked bluefish, trout or salmon.

Ale Batter Shrimp
Peel and de-vein 24 jumbo shrimp, leaving the tails on. Dredge the shrimp in 1/2 cup flour seasoned with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Break 1 egg in a bowl and whisk in 1 can of beer or ale. Continue to whisk in about 1 cup flour until the consistency is like pancake batter. Season with 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.
Add canola oil to a saucepan to a depth of 3 inches and heat to 350 degrees. Dip each shrimp in the ale batter and swirl it around until it becomes coated. Place in the hot oil and hold the tail until it just begins to cook (this will keep it from sticking to the bottom). Repeat with all the shrimp, keeping them warm when cooked. They will rise to the surface when cooked, about 2 minutes each.
Serve with Horseradish Marmalade Sauce (below) on the side.

Horseradish Marmalade Sauce
Place in a food processor 1 cup orange marmalade, 1/4 cup orange juice, the juice and zest from 1 lemon, 1/4 cup freshly grated horseradish and 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger. Purée until smooth.

Boiled Fresh Brisket
with Horseradish Sauce

Cut in half one whole fresh brisket of beef, trim excess fat and place both halves in a soup pot. Cover it with cold water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to simmer, remove the scum with a slotted spoon and add 3 bay leaves, 8 peppercorns, 4 cloves and 1 teaspoon thyme. Simmer, covered, until almost tender, about 2 hours. (Pierce with a cook’s fork; if it goes in easily it is tender.) Add 2 carrots cut in large chunks, 2 parsnips, 4 small potatoes and 4 small peeled onions. When these vegetables are cooked, add one bunch of kale with stems removed and cut into 3-inch pieces. Remove everything from the pot and reserve the broth.
When cool enough to handle, slice the meat against the grain into thin slices. Serve with the vegetables and moisten with the broth.
Make a horseradish sauce by melting 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan and stirring in 3 tablespoons flour to make a roux. Whisk in 1 cup of the cooking broth and season to taste with salt and pepper. When slightly thickened, stir in 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish or grate 1/4 cup fresh horseradish into the sauce. Garnish the meat with chopped parsley and serve the horseradish sauce on the side.
Serves 6.

Slow-Roasted Pork Loin
with Horseradish Crust

Purchase a center cut pork loin and trim all fat and silverskin. Make a slit down the middle and open up the meat like a book. Chop 1 tablespoon fresh sage, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary and 1 tablespoon fresh parsley. Place the herbs down the center of the pork and fold it back up. Tie with butcher string and set aside.
In a small baking dish place 20 unpeeled cloves of garlic and 1/4 cup olive oil. Cover with foil and roast in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. When garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves into the oil and discard the skins. Place the oil and garlic in a food processor and purée along with 1/2 cup freshly grated horseradish. You will end up with a smooth paste. Rub this over the meat and sprinkle with 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs. Season the meat with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Cook the roast in a 300-degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours or until internal temperature is 155 degrees. Let sit 20 minutes before carving and serve with above apple horseradish relish.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]