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I hate scrolling down through a whole long boring story just to get to a recipe so I put the recipe first. There is still a whole long boring story but it’s after the recipe if you are interested in some self indulgent shit about how this all came together.  Shout out to my friend Gary Podesto at Chez who recommended cooking celeriac whole and THEN peeling them.  Game changed.

When buying celery root for this recipe find some that are about the same size so they cook evenly.  If you want to make sandwiches with them think about what size bread/ buns you have and pick your celeriac accordingly.  

ALSO wet hand/dry hand is a technique where you do all the dry steps of the breading stage with one hand and the wet (egg wash) stage with the other hand.  If you do this everything stays clean.  If you don’t you make glue.  Up to you.

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FRIED CELERY ROOT/ CELERIAC

You will need for the initial braising:

  • Celery Root (a medium size root will make 4-7 slices or about 10 nuggets)
  • Aromatics for the braising liquid (garlic, onion, herbs, black pepper, dried mushrooms)
  • A cooking vessel big enough to put the whole celery root in.  A lid helps but you can cover it with foil too.
  • Salt

For the frying stage:

  • AP Flour in a bowl
  • Whisked egg in a bowl (for vegans use ground flax mixed with water or soy milk) 
  • Fine bread crumbs in a bowl (panko works great)
  • Salt
  • Sheet tray for staging all the breaded pieces
  • A heavy fry pan, preferably cast iron
  • Tongs for getting the pieces out of the fry oil
  • A neutral high-heat oil like peanut, grapeseed or canola.  Enough to make a ½ inch layer in your fry pan/ pot
  • Paper towels or a paper bag on a plate or sheet tray to absorb the excess oil

For serving:

  • Buns or bread for sandwiches.  Slaw.  Some kind of creamy sauce like remoulade or tartar or chili mayo.  Or whatever sounds good to you!

BRAISING

Turn the oven on to 300F to preheat.

Soak your celery root in water to loosen the dirt.  Rinse or spray them clean after the dirt has softened a bit.  It’s not going to all come off so don’t kill yourself.

In a pot with a lid that can fit in the oven (a casserole, dutch oven, deep hotel pan or just a pot will work) add the celery root and enough water to cover them.  Put aromatics into the water like bay, thyme branches, garlic, onion, black pepper, dried mushrooms, whatever you think will make a delicious braising liquid.  Add a generous amount of salt, the celery root can take it.   Heat it all up on the stovetop until the water is just starting to simmer.  Cover and place in the oven.  

Check periodically but basically you want to cook the celery root until a knife can pierce them easily, probably 15-25 minutes but honestly you’ll just have to check.  Depends on the size.

When done pull the celery root out of the liquid to cool.  Discard the liquid. After they have cooled a bit slip the skins off with your fingers or a paring knife.  I eat the little rooties on the bottom end of the celeriac but that’s up to you.  If you do too use the paring knife to get in-between the roots and peel the skins off.  If you don’t want to eat them they will break right off.  

Cool the celeriac before cutting.  You can put them in the fridge and fry them another time too.  When they are fully cool the super soft center will contract a bit so it’s good to wait.


FRYING

If you are making sandwiches slice the roots in half inch to inch wide slices.  To make nuggets you can break the celery root in chunks with your hands; there is a natural grain to celeriac and it will separate into cool amorphous shapes.  The extra texture will also increase surface area which helps make a crispier fry and will hold the coating better.  Let the pieces come to room temp.

Get a cookie sheet or sheet tray to hold the breaded pieces. 

Get three bowls that are wide enough to easily coat your pieces.  Put AP flour in one, eggs beaten until thin (or a vegan substitute like flax seeds blended in water or soy milk) in the second, and a third with panko bread crumbs or another light bread crumb with some added salt mixed in.  For 3 medium celery root I used about ¾ cup of flour, 2 eggs and 1.5 cups panko with 1 teaspoon of salt mixed in.

Using the wet hand/dry hand technique at the top of this post dredge the pieces in flour to absorb the surface moisture, then coat those pieces in egg and finally panko.  Arrange them on the sheet tray.

Heat the oil in your heavy frying pan until it starts to shimmer.  If you drop a crumb of panko in the oil and it starts to sizzle it’s ready.  It may be helpful to fry one piece as a tester first to get the hang of your technique.   If you are not used to home frying I assure it’s totally safe if you keep the oil from overheating.   It should stay somewhere in the 320-340F range but it’s hard to test the temp when the oil is so shallow so I go by the sound and the way the crust is browning.  If the sizzle is too loud or violent it’s probably too hot.  If it is getting dark brown at any point the oil is probably too hot.  If the crumbs smell like burnt toast it is too hot.  You are basically just getting the pieces crispy because the celery root is already cooked and at room temp.  Be patient and be careful and you’ll do just fine!

Add the pieces in batches and turn them to get an even browning.  When they are done place them on a paper towel or brown paper bag lined tray or plate.

Serve on toasted bread or buns with your favorite slaw and creamy sauce or with dipping sauces and a side of slaw or pickles.  

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AND NOW: THE BORING-ASS STORY

Celery root or celeriac is a vegetable that tastes like a celery potato, looks like the squid-faced old one Cthulhu, is a pain in the ass to peel and is totally overlooked by most people.  That’s a shame, it’s delicious.  

There are two things we would make with it all the time at Chez Panisse.  Most of the Fall and Winter we would peel and cut bus tubs of celery root into slices, cook them in some salted water (sometimes with a little cream) and when tender blend them with butter and more cream into a silky puree.  We would also make celery root remoulade by peeling and matchsticking the roots, salting the shreds until they start to soften then mixing them with a mustardy-eggy dressing.  Both are delicious and I recommend them highly.  

 Last year when visiting Brooklyn, NY, however, was the first time I’ve ever had my mind blown by this unassuming vegetable.  I was trying to eat less meat and looking for places that were embracing the possibilities of veggies and heard great things about Hunky Dory in Crown Heights.  Their fried celery root sandwich was crispy, tender, flaky like a firm white fish and one of the highlights of my NYC vacay.  Sorry the photo is a bit garbage, I only took it for reference so I could make it myself eventually.  This thing is bonkers good.

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I’ve been meaning to make it for forever but now that I can’t leave the house I’ve been digging into all the projects I’ve neglected.  This is the first time I’ve made this recipe so I’m sure I will have some tweaks as I keep making it but it was pretty much a banger straight out the gate so I feel good sharing it with you all.  If you have any questions let me know.  Also, if you have and suggestions on how I could improve my recipe writing let me know as well!

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