Celeriac and broad bean combination worth its salt
I’ve long been fascinated by salt baking. One of the first things I ate that was salt baked was a sea bass at a Portuguese restaurant in Macau. I can still remember it distinctly: the ceremony with which the fish was brought out, chipped out of a salt crust, and served at the table. The flavour was intense and the structure of the meat was still firm and moist and beautifully seasoned.
I like to bake lamb this way, and have recently started doing the same with celeriac. The results take the flavour and the texture of the vegetable to a new place. They make it silken, and the trapped steam, almost like a pressure cooker, intensifies the nutty flavour. The salt also gently seasons the bulb.
Celeriac is possibly the ugliest vegetable – a kind of clubfooted potato with hairy tendrils and tumorous protrusions. In some countries, it is known as knob celery. When I was working in London, I was out drinking with chefs and we each had to say which vegetable we best resembled – an odd parlour game in the lives of hospitality workers. One chef said he was a celeriac. He was an ugly man, and he accepted it. To this day, whenever I cut into a celeriac, I find myself thinking of his head, which is a disturbing occurrence.
But celeriac is a vegetable of virtues, equally delicious whether raw or cooked. It works well raw in a coleslaw or remoulade. I recently replaced potato with celeriac in a potato gratin recipe, which was very successful, and had a richer flavour and less floury texture. Often I will roast it with chicken – peeling the bulb, cutting it into good-sized wedges, and rubbing it with oil or butter and a little salt and pepper – and its sweetness is always a pleasant surprise. In the garden, it is also a nice and green twice-yearly crop to have.
For a good remoulade, I cut the celeriac into matchsticks and season generously with salt to draw out moisture. Once wilted, I pat dry and toss with the juice of half a lemon. I then add about four tablespoons of mayonnaise and two tablespoons of Dijon mustard and a good hit of freshly ground black pepper.
If it seems a bit thick, it can be let out with a little crème fraîche. Chervil can be a nice addition for its soft anise flavour, but other than that I like the largely natural elements served with cold cuts and terrines and the like.
The celeriac in this recipe, scooped and torn and dressed and tossed with broad beans and preserved lemons, can work as a stand-alone vegetarian dish. Marinated at room temperature for a few hours, it can only improve. It would also be delicious with roast chicken or maybe pork.
Salt-baked celeriac, broad beans and preserved lemon
– 1 medium-sized celeriac
– 1kg table salt
– 90ml extra virgin olive oil
– 2 golden shallots, diced
– 1 tsp tarragon, chopped
– ¼ preserved lemon skin, diced
– 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
– 1 tsp lemon juice
– 300g broad beans, podded and blanched
Preheat oven to 200ºC.
To bake the celeriac, mix the salt with half a cup of water to make a loose dough. The salt should be wet enough to shape around the celeriac.
Line a baking tray with aluminium foil and spread one centimetre of the wet salt to support the celeriac. Place the celeriac on the salt base and mould the salt evenly around the celeriac. Ensure the celeriac is entombed in an even one-centimetre-thick casing.
Place the celeriac in the oven and cook for 40 minutes. Take the celeriac from the oven and leave to cool for 20 minutes. Remove the crust and set aside the celeriac.
Cook the shallots in the olive oil until translucent. Remove from the heat and add the tarragon, preserved lemon, white balsamic, and lemon juice.
Dress the broad beans. Peel the celeriac and add to the broad beans, toss, and leave to marinate for 10 minutes before serving.
Taste the salad and add more salt if need be. Place the salad on a platter and dust with plenty of black pepper before serving.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 3, 2015 as "Worth its salt". Subscribe here.