There’s no shortage of options for chefs looking to satisfy seasonal palates with new and trendy flavors, like celeriac and different kinds of turnips.
Beets, carrots, potatoes: The usual suspects still reign on winter menus. But this year, we’re hearing more about celeriac, different types of turnips, and other less-common root vegetables as growers experiment with new and heirloom varieties.
By the numbers, beets dominate, according to research from Datassential that shows beets with a menu frequency of 47 percent at high-end independent and chain restaurants across the nation. After beets, parsnips had the second-highest frequency on menus, at 16.5 percent, followed by turnips and sunchokes, at 12.6 percent and 11.4 percent respectively.
Taro, interestingly enough, led the pack in menu frequency at mid-scale restaurants, 3.8 percent compared to virtually zero for other root veggies. The gnarly looking root was most commonly associated with Asian restaurants. Often steamed in cube form with meat and fish, it can also find its way on dim sum menus in the form of dumplings and pan-fried cakes. As Sichuan cuisine continues to trend, we could see more of this starchy tuber.
Growers say they’re selling celery root to both chefs and consumers more often than in the past, and many chefs have taken to celeriac because they can use the whole plant, from root to leaf. The versatile bulb adds another layer of flavor for soups, stews, and—when mashed—even with potatoes. When shredded raw for a slaw with carrots, it adds crunch and character. Once the celery stem and leaves have been removed, the roots will store in the cooler for at least three months.
Chef Justin Carlisle, of Ardent in Milwaukee, has combined raw celery, celery leaves, salt-roasted celeriac, and even white chocolate for a sweet and savory dish. While at Elliott’s Oyster House in Seattle, Chef Robert Spaulding serves whole celery and parsnip plants for a butter-poached Alaskan king crab entrée with a celeriac and parsnip purée, pickled celery, and American caviar—using some celery leaves as a garnish and the extra leaves for an earthy pistou, blended with olive oil, for another layer of flavor and presentation.
Celeriac can also do time at the bar, where leftover greens can be used for celery bitters. For instance, at the Betty in Chicago, mixologist Peter Vestinos uses the bitters in a gimlet with a house-made cordial.