The Science of Celery Root

Surprising wisdom from a humble root vegetable.
celery root

Sitting there all wizened and silent on my counter, celery root resembles a great sensei, like Pat Morita, or Yoda. And like those sages, celery root has taught me important lessons about cooking and life.

First, celery root taught me about molecular gastronomy. What do Ferran Adria, Grant Achatz, and Wylie Dufresne do, when it comes down to it? They divorce flavor from texture and reassemble the two in unexpected ways. What if shrimp were a noodle? Foie gras a powder? Just about anything else a foam?

I had a similar experience the first time I peeled a celery root. Peeling celery root is easier than it looks. Just underneath the gnarly skin, easily taken off with a sharp knife, is the smooth, white interior. That's not what surprised me. What got me was the aroma. Until I cut into that first celery root, I thought celery was just a vehicle for peanut butter or the oft-omitted third wheel in mirepoix. Even before I bit into a sliver of raw celery root—crunchy, yes, but not in the fibrous way of celery stalks—I finally understood the grassy flavor of celery. Like potatoes, celery has a characteristic flavor that has become so familiar that it’s easy to forget that it has any flavor at all. Here, packed into a lumpy and unusual shape, celery was able to sneak up on me after all these years.

Celery root also taught me a lesson in fiscal responsibility. My local supermarket sells it for $5 per pound, and a nice, hefty celery root can weigh a pound and a half or more. At the farmers market it's $2.50 per piece—and fresher.

Raw celery root, cut into matchsticks, stars in the famous French salad céleri rémoulade, with a mayonnaise-based dressing. I prefer to toss the same matchsticks with a Thai-style dressing of garlic, fresh green chile, lime juice, and sugar. Cooked, I like celery root rubbed with olive oil and roasted in a hot oven, or glazed on the stovetop with carrots or without. But I still have many lessons to learn from this homely vegetable.

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