Radishes, the spring produce underdog, have a brilliant peppery crunch when raw, but depending on the kind you buy, they can be tricky to cook. So we polled a panel of chefs to help us get the most out of the stubborn but delicious little vegetables.
Spicy Pickles for Sandwiches
Jeff Mahin is a chef/partner at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and the creative force behind Stella Barra Pizzeria (Santa Monica, Hollywood, Chicago, DC opening winter 2014), Summer House Santa Monica (Chicago, DC opening winter 2014), and M Street Kitchen (Santa Monica). Mahin has accumulated several industry accolades including Zagat's "30 under 30," Forbes "30-under-30" list of hospitality industry up-and-comers and Restaurant Hospitality's "13 to watch in 2013."
Pickle radishes for sandwiches, since they're so nice and peppery and spicy. Slice them thinly on a mandoline. Bring a basic pickling liquid to a boil, then pour them over the radishes. Bring them to room temperature, and then let them sit in the fridge overnight with some jalapenos. You get a crunchy, peppery pickle that's easy to layer on sandwiches, especially those with braised meats that don't have much texture to them. And they're a great gift; people are enamored by how pickles are made, and they're super cheap to make and last forever.
Toss Them With Pesto
Marcie Turney is one of Philadelphia's most prominent chefs, whose restaurants include Lolita, Barbuzzo, Jamonera, and Little Nona's. She also has a signature line of chocolates, Marcie Blaine Artisinal Chocolates, and was a 2014 James Beard "Outstanding Restaurateur" nominee.
We try to use the entire vegetable in our kitchen, so if we get tops on our radishes, we use them in pesto. To balance them, add garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, salt, pepper, and some lemon zest. We recently had all of these different kinds of radishes with these beautiful colors and shapes, so we cut an inch off the tops, sliced them lengthwise or in quarters, then tossed them with the pesto and some shaved parmesan, olive oil, and lemon on top. You can roast some, too, with minced shallots, thyme, salt, pepper and oil, and then plate them altogether so you get them roasted and raw radishes on one plate.
Formerly of Momofuku Noodle Bar and French Louie, Ian Alvarez recently opened Bara in New York City's East Village, where he blends the culinary and atmospheric influences of a French wine bar with a Japanese izakaya.
Radishes are really good when preserved, but I think when you just straight-pickle them you have to use them quickly or the salt takes over and you get a gnarly, farty smell. So kimchi is a good way to use them, and I particularly love water kimchi—basically a very lightly marinated vegetable dish.
Use small radishes, like watermelon or breakfast varieties. They're like sponges, so they soak in everything and become super flavorful. Make a dashi with kombu and water mixed together (we use four ounces of kombu to a gallon of water). Then add rice vinegar, sugar, garlic, ginger, and a hot red pepper like gochugaru. Toss the radishes in salt for an hour or two, strain off the juices drawn out by the salt, then pour the kimchi liquid over them, and let them hang out for at least 24 hours before using.
If you use them quickly, the radishes will have both the taste of the brine and the peppery quality that a fresh radish has, and they'll retain some crunch but have a meaty quality to them. In the fridge they'll last a couple of weeks, but eventually they'll become more about the brine than the vegetables. Eat the vegetable, but drink the beautiful broth brine, use it in a soup, or use it as a mignonette for oysters.
For canapés or an amuse, we take butter and melt it, add gelatin to it, cool it, and emulsify the butter again. Then dip radishes into the warm butter and finish with a little fleur de sel or rock salt for a little French appetizer. The butter sets like a coating, so you get radish, butter, and salt all in one.
Spicy Mexican Snack Food
Julian Medina is renowned in New York for the ways he plays with Mexican and Latin flavors at his Toloache restaurants. Richard Sandoval met a young Medina in Mexico City years ago and, impressed with his energy and vision, invited him to relocate to New York to work in one of his restaurants. Medina quickly became his protégé, and it wasn't long before Medina started building an empire of his own. His latest opening is Tacuba in Astoria, Queens.
Radishes are very authentic to Mexico, used similar to mango and jicama as an after-school snack. Cut them in quarters, sprinkle them with some lime, salt, and chili powder, and then just eat them raw, like a snack. They're pungent when fresh, so with a little lime and chili powder they're perfect.
Upscale Bread Service
Classically trained in Italy, Amalia Scatena uses refined Mediterranean techniques, seasonal ingredients, and local products at her Charleston newcomerCannon Green.
I love raw radishes with herbed butter on a crusty piece of bread. If you have a barbecue in the summer, keep some raw sliced radishes, chive butter and crusty bread on hand to take the traditional bread-and-olive-oil setup up a notch. I really like English Breakfast radishes since they're a little smaller, or Easter Egg radishes since they're so colorful. But in general use smaller-sized radishes for a more mild peppery taste.
John Delpha helms Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar, where he serves regional American comfort food with global touches. He puts his competition barbecue experience to work teaching twice-annual whole hog cooking classes at Murphysboro's 17th Street Barbecue.
You know how some people think of daikon as primarily a pickling vegetable? I love to use some of the same flavors with it, but I braise it with Chinese rice wine, chicken stock, ginger, and onions. The daikon is an incredible vehicle for soaking up flavors, so once it's braised you get an incredibly bold taste from the aromatics. I'm serving it with a smoked chicken dish here right now; the rice wine is kinda like sherry, so it brings a sweet, oaky distinction to the dish, along with the sweet and spicy flavors.
Amanda Cohen has received numerous accolades for her vegetarian cooking at New York's Dirt Candy, including a glowing two-star review in the New York Times, a Michelin Bib Gourmand nod, and a Top 10 best vegetarian restaurant in America award from Food & Wine. Cohen is also author of the award-winning Dirt Candy: A Cookbook.
Roasting some kinds of radishes can be tricky. They're a defensive vegetable in that they don't want you to eat them! Sometimes you might as well just roast a turnip and not a radish.
But we wanted to do a radish dessert with radish sherbet. It took us a while to figure out how to make it, how to get the flavor of the radish into the ice cream. Often we hydrate or juice the vegetable, but hydrated radishes are really gross. So we started to think about it more like ginger and less like a radish, and that really helped. We grate it to get the radish flavor, and then add it into ice cream base. That had us rethinking how we used it, and we started using the grated radish instead of ginger in something like a vinaigrette!