Luke Robinson showcases the versatility of this fiery root
“Horseradish is never going to win a beauty contest,” says Borough Market demonstration chef Luke Robinson. “It is quite a gnarled looking root which looks something like an oversized, dirty carrot or parsnip. But when you first peel it, the flesh is pristine white with a wonderful, distinctive aroma and it has a very hot, peppery flavour.”
Anyone who’s had a bit too much horseradish in a mouthful of food will attest to its nasal-clearing qualities, but according to Luke there is much more to this root than heat. “Just as they often do with chilli, many people can miss out on the flavour of horseradish by concentrating on the heat,” he explains.
Horseradish has a very strong flavour and when used well it can act as a palate cleanser, which is one of the reasons it is traditionally paired with steak. “After a few bites of steak, a dash of horseradish really refreshes the palate and kind of resets it, leaving you ready to enjoy the next bite to the full. It is also a very good flavour enhancer, as well as bringing its own unique element to dishes. It is much more versatile than we think,” he continues. “Even though it’s very strong, we should take our cue from the way the Japanese use wasabi, which can be equally pungent.”
As if to prove his point, this talented chef lets us into the secret of one of his more popular dishes: “I actually think that it is really good with fish, which some people find quite surprising,” Luke says. “One of the ways I have used it in restaurants in the past is, is infusing fresh horseradish into a sort of cooked savoury custard. It goes beautifully with flat fish such as dover sole, turbot or brill. I’d also add a small helping of smoked eel, which brings a rich smokiness to the dish, and then a mild peppery lettuce on the side.”
For those unfamiliar with savoury custard, Luke says you make up a basic custard mix as you would for a quiche but rather than filling it with cheese, add some grated horseradish. You then strain the custard to get rid of the grated horseradish and steam the mix to set it. “The reason I put horseradish in the custard is to remove some of the intensity of the flavour and to get that smooth creamy texture a custard gives you,” Luke explains. “The idea is the same as making a horseradish cream: to tone down some of the fieriness of it and let the flavour come through.”
It is easy to make your own horseradish cream: just mix grated horseradish, single or double cream depending on how rich you want it, some lemon juice or a splash of vinegar and some salt and pepper to season. But Luke warns us to take care when grating horseradish, as it can be a more intense version of chopping onions and leave your eyes streaming.
Fresh horseradish will, however, lose its potency quite quickly, so it is best to only cut or grate the amount you need. If you have a whole root, it is a good idea to cut it into smaller pieces and freeze them until required. “It is also a very healthy food being both anti-bacterial and anti-microbial,” Luke says. “It is a local ingredient we should all be using a lot more of. I promise it will pleasantly surprise you if you do.”