There are foods you grow up eating and then there are foods you discover. Most often, the former carries a greater sense of importance and realism especially if you aspire to have a life somehow centered around food.
Celeriac is a food that I discovered, not without prompting from television cookery shows, of course. While browsing a local fruit and veg stand for dinner accompaniments one afternoon a few weeks ago, I saw it. It was sitting there with the potatoes and the mushrooms, looking like an out-of-place, small-scale meteor. Instantly, I went over to it and ran my fingers across its tough skin and fantasized about slicing into it and discovering what it was made of. I happily added to the mix of arugula, radicchio and fennel in my basket and proceeded to checkout.
When I finally got inside, I was reminded of a dried coconut. Although celeriacs are very heavy, the flesh is light and porous. In fact, it floats, like a life raft. You should have seen it in my pot, just buoying and bobbing up and down as the water came to a boil, until it submitted to the heat and began to cook.
The smell it emits ... is interesting, unmistakable and very nearly indescribable. I felt like a witch pouring over a steaming cauldron of potion while cooking this. It has this ... heady, earthy, almost terrifyingly fantastic smell. It smells sinister and intriguing, like nothing I've ever cooked with before. Slightly peppery. It's been described as being foul smelling ... I'm not sure if I would agree with that 100 percent. While it was a bit foul and while it did leave my house smelling of its unusual scent for days, I'm not sure I hated it.
The celeriac added an earthiness to the potatoes that the spuds were enviable of, I'm sure. It added an interesting pow. Not one that I would want every time I ate mashed potatoes, but every now and again it wouldn't be too bad.
I personally think the tarragon, which was sprinkled over everything, added a nice hint of flavor to the celeriac. I think the two ingredients played off of each other's pepperyness and really elevated it. It might be worth considering mixing tarragon throughout the mash next time.
To recreate this meal, you need: chicken breast, dried tarragon, cabbage, two or three good-sized potatoes, one celeriac, milk, white cheese, salt and pepper.
Cut the flesh away from the celeriac's skin, dice and boil for about 15 minutes until tender. Meanwhile, in another pot, boil the peeled and diced potatoes for about 15 minutes until tender. While the root vegetables are boiling, sear the chicken in a hot pan. Then put the chicken in the oven at about 180C/350F for 20 minutes in a pan of butter and olive oil. Baste every now and then to keep from drying out.
Strain the root vegetables and cook the cabbage however you'd like. I like to steam mine and add a little salt, pepper and butter. Mash the potatoes and celeriac together, add in a glug of milk, salt and pepper, cheese and any other secret weapons you use when making homemade mash potatoes.
Top with dried tarragon and serve.