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Fresh Horseradish -- THAT bitter?!?

One of my farmers market pickups this past weekend was a chunk of fresh horseradish. I'd never cooked with it before, and was anxious to give it a try. I used an exceedingly simple Jean-Georges recipe that I thought would be a great basic intro, and got some terrible results. It was HORRIBLY bitter. I realize fresh horseradish is bitter by nature, and I'm aok with other bitter foods, but this was really quite extreme, certainly not pleasant, and bordering on inedible. Given that all of the Jean-Georges recipes I've tried over the years have been great, I have a hard time believing this was the intended result. So my question is, was this a problem with preparation, or did I get a lousy piece of horseradish (if there even is such a thing)?

As instructed by the recipe, I peeled the horseradish and sliced it thinly. I put it in a saucepan with water to cover, brought the water to a boil, and then simmered it for about an hour until the horseradish was tender. I drained and pureed it with a little bit of the simmering liquid and some creme fraiche, then used that mix to coat salmon fillets before roasting them.

Any ideas? My only thought was that at one point the simmering liquid had cooked about halfway down and I had to replenish it and bring it back to heat... but it seems unlikely that was the issue.

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  1. I have never cooked horseradish - I didn't even know anyone did. The only thing I've done with it is to grate it finely and mix with vinegar, salt and sugar to make a wonderfully sinus-clearing condiment. But cook it? I can't imagine. What an odd recipe.

    Oh, and yes, it really is that bitter. If it's any good, that is.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Nyleve

      I grate it very fine with cider vinegar. It is supposed to be sinus-clearing strong and hot , so you just need a little bit with beef.

    2. After all it is a common bitter herb for passover -

      3 Replies
      1. re: weinstein5

        I thougt it's purpose was to bring tears to the eyes. :)

        1. re: scubadoo97

          And me, I thought it was to take the top of your head off. mmmmm!

        2. re: weinstein5

          Some friends invited us to their seder a couple of times. I always wondered why they referred to horseradish as the bitter herb in the scripture, because I had never found it to be bitter. I guess the original poster has shown me the light.

        3. grate it fine, mix it with beet juice and have it with gefilte fish!!

          1. oh you can also put it in mashed potatoes.

            I have also seen horseradish and panko crusted fish in restaurants.

            1. While I appreciate the suggestions for recipes, what I'm really trying to determine is if anybody can identify some mistake I might have made in preparing it, or if there's enough variation in horseradish that it's possible to get an unusually bitter root. I assure you, I'm quite comfortable with bitter foods, but this was seriously unpalatable.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Dmnkly

                I must admit I am completely ignorant on this subject. I do think that there's a good bit of vinegar in "prepared" horseradish, and that would greatly offset the bitterness of the root.

                1. re: Dmnkly

                  I can assure you that the horseradish root itself can vary so dramatically from one root to another that you'd hardly even know it's the same thing. Sometimes it's killer, other times it's just nothing. I always have fresh horseradish for Passover seder - and I always hope it's murder. This year it was, but other years not so much. It could have to do with the root itself, or the freshness of it - could very well be the way it was stored before you got it. Like another poster said, the flavour is very volatile.

                2. Your method sounds solid. The bitterness is not consistent and I'm wondering if there wasn't another factor in play. I hate to sound like the moron that, when you call for warranty work when your computer bursts into flames, says "is your computer plugged in".. but are you confidant you had true horseradish root (and not daikon, parsnips or rhutabagas or (like you could afford it) wasabi?)

                  Did you use regular tap water? What is composition of your water? Are you in a "soft" water location? Are you in Florida w/ lots of sulphur in your taps?

                  Bitter... bitter... hrmm... not hitting an idea yet but I'm fascinated. Did you perhaps try to go "above and beyond" and add anything to the "stewing" mixture like bay leaf... ? Did you taste the horseradish seperate and make sure that it was the sauce that was bitter and not some component of the entire dish? (I'm confidant that you did.. just making sure your computer is plugged in). Was your creme fraiche "fresh"? I'm scratching my head but will watch this thread to see where it goes.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: e_bone

                    Don't worry, I've fielded a few tech support calls in my day :-)

                    I'm in Baltimore, which is a soft water location. Nothing was in the pan other than thinly sliced peeled horseradish and tap water. The creme fraiche was perfectly fine -- I actually used the rest of it last night for something else. And it was horribly bitter coming right out of the pan. The soaking water, too, was just awful (but it was both the liquid and the root itself -- I tasted both before blending).

                    I just took another look at the recipe, though, and realized that I missed the instruction to salt the water. Now I'm wondering if that may have been an issue.

                    In any case, thanks for confirming that cooking fresh horseradish like this CAN be a pleasant experience... I'm stil not sure if it was bad product or user error, but at least I know it's worth trying again :-)

                    1. re: Dmnkly

                      that could be - if you think about your taste buds 4 tyoes - sweet sour slat and bitter - so with out something to balance the bitter it could have been a shock - all the horse raddish resipces I know balance it with somhing sour (vinegar), sweet (beet/sugar) or both - maybe the salt would do the same thing

                      1. re: weinstein5

                        Well, I did season the blended horseradish / creme fraiche mixture with a good deal of salt after the fact, but it didn't help. I was wondering more if salting the water might impede some chemical process that creates the overwhelming bitterness.

                      2. re: Dmnkly

                        There must be a reason why the women of my family have been preparing fresh horseradish for generations, and nobody has ever, ever boiled and mashed it. It just couldn't be a good idea. Besides, the horseradishy-ness disappears with heat or just time. It's very volatile. As has been said above, you grate it, mix with vinegar and sugar, and use it before it turns into a shadow of itself.

                        1. re: wearybashful

                          I won't completely discount the possibility that it's simply a bad way to prepare horseradish, but this IS Jean-Georges Vongerichten we're talking about, here. It seems to me that a problem on my end is far more likely than one of the world's greatest living chefs suddenly developing an inability to know when something tastes terrible :-)

                          I assumed some others would have done this as well, and could at least confirm that my experience here is atypical, but I guess this method of preparation is even less common than I thought. I'll just have to experiment further.

                          Thanks for the thoughts, all!

                    2. Bitter or hot? ie. pungent? This thread has me confused because of the use of the word 'bitter' to describe horseradish. I assume you have tasted prepared horseradish in a jar? How did your results differ from that flavor?
                      I have never boiled a horseradish product - only subjected it to gentle warming such as in a dipping sauce or in mashed potatoes as a last addition.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: OCEllen

                        Oh, it was absolutely nothing at all like prepared horseradish. I'm not talking about pungency or spice at all. I'm talking about straight-up bitterness. The horseradish flavor was there, but it was horribly, horribly bitter. Imagine prepared horseradish. Now, remove the vinegar and substitute the godawful stuff you paint on your fingernails to keep you from biting them. I exaggerate, but that's the basic idea :-)

                        1. re: Dmnkly

                          Then something was (old, maybe? / went wrong - a guess at this point, I guess ;) and hopefully next time will go well!

                          1. re: Dmnkly

                            What I'm reading is that horseradish becomes hotter as you make the grind/grating tinier. Did you try that and then taste a little bit? As everyone says, the way to make it inolves vinegar. My dad always made his own because he loved that "blast" as I describe, it literaly feels like it moves straight up to the top of my head. I love it. Seems there are many different types too.

                            1. re: chef chicklet

                              I know it's two years later, BUT....
                              I just got a bitter horseradish root. And I've been doing this for years. No indicator, but it is VERY bitter, not just hot. Confirming your observation, although I doubt you're still worried about it now.
                              The only thing that I would note about this root is that there were some greens at the top as if it were beginning to sprout. I just bought it yesterday at the farmer's market, but I don't know if an active root is more bitter than a dormant one.

                              1. re: dugjohnson

                                It was starting to sound like the op just got a hold of a bad root. You seem to have just underscored the theory.