Horseradish is one of those things that well, let’s face it, just doesn’t come to the front of the conversation often when talking about cooking. I mean, if you think about it, when was the last time you even thought about horseradish at all?

Sure, if you happen to be making shrimp cocktail sauce or you are a bartender and need to make a Bloody Mary mix, you probably grabbed the jar of horseradish and measured in the amount the recipe called for, but did you really stop and think about it at all? Did you give that horseradish a little taste test? Probably not. I know a lot of bartenders will check the taste of the mix after all of the ingredients are in it and then possibly add more of this or that, but that’s not quite the same. The same thing for cocktail sauce: the recipe is followed, there is a quick taste test and then, if there isn’t enough heat, out comes the Tabasco or hot sauce of choice. That’s all well and good for some things, but for me, if horseradish is supposed to be the heat source, then I want to be sure that it is.

The ideal Bloody Mary for me does have a little hot sauce and definitely black pepper, but it is the horseradish that really makes it. That’s the same with cocktail sauce.

All of those hot sauces are made from peppers, which have a different flavor than horseradish. Also, as a general rule, those hot sauces will maintain their heat level for a much longer time period than horseradish will. It is amazing how fast a jar of horseradish will lose its heat once opened, which is why I always try to taste it before I add it to the recipe. I would still rather have to add twice the amount and still get that flavor as opposed to adding hot sauce and changing the flavor I’m looking for.

The Beaver brand, extra hot horseradish is what I’ve been getting, but lately even that didn’t seem all that hot after being open for any more than a week, so I’ve been on a mission to find fresh horseradish. I’m sure they’ll carry it at the super markets sometimes, but my timing has been so bad I haven’t seen it since what seems like third grade. Anyway, I found some at Whole Foods the other day and what a difference. Peel it and grate it fine and this is the stuff I’m looking for: that eye-watering-take-your-breath-away heat that just clears your sinuses as if you just took a huge whiff of vinegar. I try and grate just what I need, but to keep it as fresh as possible once grated, add a teaspoon or so of white vinegar and a little water and that will keep it from browning and also keep it moist.

What are some things you can do with horseradish besides cocktail sauce and Bloody Mary’s? Here are some suggestions that are both easy and delicious. Remember though, horseradish will lose its heat, so go by taste instead of by measurement. Use these ideas to spark your imagination for your own recipes.

Horseradish suggestions

  • Add to sour cream with a touch of vinegar, salt and pepper for a steak topping.
  • As your steak is finishing on the grill, mix horseradish with blue cheese and melt it on.
  • Blend horseradish with Boursin cheese and use as a chicken breast stuffing.
  • Blend with cream cheese or other soft cheeses such as a dill havarti and use to stuff pork or chicken or use as a spread, or thin that mixture out some with sour cream for a dip.
  • Add to your stuffed pepper filling.

Trained under Master Chef Anton Flory at Top Notch Resort in Stowe, Vt., Smitty is a personal chef specializing in dinner parties, cooking classes and special events. For more information and archived copies of Stir it Up, visit Smitty welcomes your questions and comments at [email protected] or (530) 412-3598.

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Chef Smitty
Smitty is a personal chef specializing in dinner parties, cooking classes and special events. Trained under Master Chef Anton Flory at Top Notch Resort in Stowe, Vt., Smitty is known for his creative use of fresh ingredients. Smitty has been teaching skiing at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows for more than 26 years each winter, and spends his summers working for High Sierra Waterski School since 2000. Smitty has been writing his chef column for Tahoe Weekly since 2005.