Salt-Baked Celery Root with Warm Bacon and Wild Mushroom Vinaigrette
Published February 16, 2019
On a recent trip to Montreal, amongst a sea of bagels, smoked meat and poutine, I was surprised to find an abundance of celery root. Okay, maybe it didn’t quite have an incredibly abundant presence at the poutineries I visited, but I was happy to see a variety of restaurants around the city featuring it in one way or another on their menus.
It’s about time. Also known as celeriac, this dense, bulbous and craggy root vegetable is one of my favourites. It’s incredibly versatile, which may be why so many chefs in Montreal are putting it on their plates.
The farm-to-table and Nordic food movements have helped bring lesser appreciated “ugly” vegetables, such as celeriac, back into our hearts and minds. And as celery root thrives in colder climates, it makes sense that local farmers in Quebec would grow it. In turn, chefs who follow these movements and their practices are more likely to be asking for vegetables such as this. The two phenomena combined create an opportunity for this local ingredient to become the new exotic, in a way, and that’s something that really excites me. We can all benefit from reclaiming food that is grown naturally in our own backyards, rather than shipped around the world to make it to our dinner tables.
Still, celery root isn’t much to look at. It is easily missed in favour of brightly coloured butternut squash or the well-understood cauliflower. I get it. This beastly bulb, ranging in size anywhere from that of an apple to a small melon, can be intimidating. But what it lacks in polished exterior, it certainly makes up for in delicious flavour. Distinctive and herbaceous in a parsley meets celery kind of way, celery root’s inherent nutty flavour is enhanced with roasting. It is delicious served alongside pork or seafood, but can just as easily be cooked into soups or purées, and it can also be eaten raw.
Despite being related, celery and celery root are not grown from the same plant. Celeriac comes from a varietal of celery that favours the root as opposed to the light green, stringy stalks we are used to snacking on. And though very similar in flavour, they are not really interchangeable in recipes as their textures vary greatly.
One of my favourite ways to prepare celery root is to salt bake it. Salt baking is an ancient technique that requires coating the root in a simple paste made from salt, flour, sugar and water. The resulting shell hardens as it bakes, sealing in any moisture that is released from the root and in turn seasoning it as it steams and cooks in its own juices.
Before getting started, I always like to give the celeriac a good rinse in order to remove any dirt that may still be left clinging to the surface. Run the root under cold water and use a vegetable brush to rub away any bits of soil that might be stuck between the bumps of its rooty exterior.
Link to recipe here.