This simple French salad – julienned celery root dressed in mustardy mayonnaise with herbs – is one of my favorite starters. And it's one of my husband Thierry's least favorites. That's because when he was growing up in France, céleri rémoulade was considered to be the worst of the worst: school cafeteria food.
He always groans when I make it. And then he tastes it, and gobbles it up.
Though you can use store-bought mayonnaise in this dish, making your own mayo for it transforms it into fabulous dinner-party food.
I think I've tried every possible way to make mayo – whisking it by hand, using a blender, a food processor and a mixer. Easiest and most reliable, I think, is a hand-mixer. My recipe for mayo makes about a cup, and you won't need that much for the céleri rémoulade; you can use what's left over to slather on sandwiches and make tuna salad. Or flavor it and pretend it's aioli, as so many restaurants do!
Once that's done, prepare the celery root. Also known as celeriac, it's the ugly duckling of the vegetable world.
First, use a small, sharp paring knife to peel it. Don't worry if it seems like you're cutting too much away – you want to get rid of all the ugly hairy stuff. Then slice it into julienne matchsticks. You can do this using a sharp chef's knife by first cutting it into 1/8 inch slices, then stacking those slices up and cutting them into 1/8 inch julienne.
The whole thing's much easier if you have a mandolin to get those first slices. Set it on 1/8 inch slicing, slice up the whole celery root, then make stacks and use your knife to slice into 1/8 inch julienne. If you have a hand-guard, be sure to use it. With their super-sharp blades, mandolins can be vicious!
Chop herbs and other flavorings for the sauce. Parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil are all nice in it, but even just parsley is delicious in the rémoulade. You can also chop up some capers and even cornichons, though those are optional. You'll want to give it a bracing dose of Dijon mustard, for sure. And sometimes I lighten it up with crème fraîche, though that's optional too.
Once the sauce ingredients are combined, dress the julienned celery root with enough of the sauce to moisten it, then taste it and adjust the seasonings. Let it sit for an hour or two – or overnight – so the flavors meld and the sauce soaks into the celery root. Then serve it as a first course with a simple French dinner.
Ready to try it? Here's the recipe!