Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Chrein

Though my gefilte fish became a kebab in the end, there was one thing I wasn't ready to compromise on: chrein (oooh, the joy of gutturals!). It is a deep red relish that traditionally accompanies gefilte fish and has a way of dividing mankind into two camps: those, who can't imagine gefilte fish without it and those, who've already stopped reading this post. In its sweetly pungeant burn it is a very... particular condiment. In addition to fish balls its good in sandwiches, with cold cuts and with meat in general. In an air-tight container it keeps up to two weeks.

The way chrein has apparently made a home to itself in old-school Russian idioms of fairly derogative degree says something about this pickle. "May chrein be with you" for instance actually means "to hell with you!"

Chrein, much like other specialties of the Jewish kitchen is one of those things where nothing (not even Gordon Ramsay's) beats the one mame and bubbe used to make. Those without that kind of baggage can freely get crazy and in turn create your own closely guarded family recipe! Traditionally chrein has nothing more than beetroot, horseradish, salt, sugar and white wine (or apple) vinegar, but the ingredients also accommodate darker, earthier flavours such as star anis, caraway seeds or fennel seeds, which are what I used today. 

Chrein calls for roughly same quantities of horseradish and beets, but horseradish is such feisty stuff, that you might want to start off easy and add a little bit more at a time until you've reached your pain treshold. The end result should have a fair bit of bite to it though - although I have heard of some people adding mayonnaise into theirs (Oy! And vey!)

Preparing horseradish must be an enterprise similar to opening a can  of the Swedish treat of surstr√∂mming - an experience one has to go through at least once.  I highly recommend you do it in a thoroughly ventilated space. Though a couple of tears are somewhat unavoidable.

In some recipes beets are cooked, peeled and cooked before grating. Some call for raw beets. I used two cooked beets as it really brings out the sweetness in them, but also grated in one raw one as it gives a nicer, crunchier texture and another type of beetiness.

This should be made a day in advance to allow the flavours develop and come together nicely.

3 beets
200 gr chunk of horse radish
1 rkl white wine vinegar (or apple vinegar) + 1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp red wine vinegar+1 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
1/4 - 1/2 dl beets' cooking water
salt, black pepper

Cook two beets until done. Let them cook, peel them (after boiling you can just pull the skin off) and grate as finely as you want. Reserve about 1 dl of the cooking water.

Grate the horseradish and grate to similar consistency as the beets. Mix white wine vinegar with the sugar and pour into the horse radish. This reacts with the oils (namely mustard oil) in the horseradish and mellows down the heat. It also stops the horseradish from turning brown. 

Peel the raw beetroot and grate into the cooked ones. Then add horseradish a little at a time. I added a generous 2 dl. Season with salt (and black pepper - another unorthodox addition). Since it enhances the glorious colour of the chrein and adds another dimension to its tanginess, I also added one tsp of red wine vinegar (mixed with more brown sugar). Add some of the beets' cooking liquid a little bit at a time until your relish reached desired consistency. For final touch add fennel or caraway seeds. Store in an air-tight container in the cold until the next day and check the taste and seasoning before serving.






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