by Judy McCann
Grind or grate fresh horseradish in a well-ventilated room. The fumes are potent—a whiff may be stronger than you expect! Using a blender for grinding makes home preparation more practical and less tearful than hand-grating. In either case, if you are cutting fresh horseradish, you may want to wear gloves.
The sharp and piquant flavor and the penetrating smell of horseradish become apparent when the root is grated or ground. This is because the root contains highly volatile oils which are released by enzyme activity when the root cells are crushed. In processed horseradish, vinegar stops this reaction and stabilizes the flavor. So the degree of heat is determined by when the vinegar is added to the fresh horseradish. For milder horseradish, the vinegar is added immediately. If exposed to air or stored improperly, horseradish loses its pungency rapidly after grinding. Fresh horseradish also loses flavor as it cooks, so it is best added towards the end of a dish when cooking.
To keep prepared horseradish (commercial or homemade) at its flavorful best, store it in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator or in the freezer. It will keep its good quality for about four to six weeks in the refrigerator and for six months or longer in the freezer. Buy or prepare only the amount of horseradish that can be used in a reasonable time.
You can store fresh roots for several months. Just wash them, place in polyethylene bags, and store at 32 to 38 degrees F.
If you like horseradish as hot as it can be, use fresh horseradish roots. A good quality root is clean, firm, and free from cuts and blemishes. The freshly peeled or sliced root and the prepared product are creamy white. Generally, the whiter the root, the fresher it is. When available, fresh roots will be found in the produce section.
High quality commercial or home processed horseradish has a creamy white color, a pungent, penetrating aroma, and a hot, biting taste. As processed horseradish ages, it darkens and loses it pungency and in time off-flavors may develop.
To grate your own horseradish by hand, hold cleaned and trimmed horseradish root firmly. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, carefully remove the outer layer. Rub peeled horseradish root against a fine grating surface using downward, criss cross motion.
A quicker, more efficient method uses a blender. Wash and peel the root as you would a potato and dice it into small cubes. Place the cubes in the blender jar. Process not more that half a container load at a time. Add a small amount of cold water and crushed ice. Start with enough cold water to completely cover the blades of the blender. Add several crushed ice cubes. Put the cover on the blender before turning the blender on. If necessary, add more water or crushed ice to complete the grinding. When the mixture reaches the desired consistency, add white vinegar. Use 2 to 3 tablespoons of white vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for each cup of grated horseradish.
The time at which you add the vinegar is important. Vinegar stops the enzymatic action in the ground product and stabilizes the degree of hotness. If you prefer horseradish that is not too hot, add the vinegar immediately. If you like it as hot as can be, wait three minutes before adding the vinegar.
Fresh horseradish roots may also be finely shaved or grated and added directly to a food. This simple method is frequently used by discriminating cooks. Fine shavings may also be placed in a dish of lemon juice to be served at the table.
When I use "prepared horseradish" in a recipe, yes, it is bottled horseradish; but I like to drain it. Some of the processors make their horseradish with too much water in it. Our processor, J. R. Kelly here in Collinsville, makes the best bottled horseradish, but Gold's up in New Jersey is also good. I do not like my bottled horseradish runny.
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