French Radish Love

French breakfast radishesThe French love radishes. So much so, they even serve them up naked and unadorned (the radishes, that is) with nothing but sweet butter, a pinch of sea salt and a hunk of crusty, loose-crumbed bread. This winsome combo, known simply as radis-beurre, still puts in the odd appearance on the tables of a few retro-bistrots. The dish (if you can call it that) even featured in Top Chef on French TV, though it has to be said that celebrity chef Christian Constant’s version (think grated radish castles the size of corks topped with radish hats interspersed with diminutive “millefeuilles” of buttered ham and coin-sized pieces of toast, set on a brilliant green jelly made from the radish leaves) did rather lack the sweet simplicity of the real thing.

1-IMG_8928-001Because radishes are so beloved in France, the bunches you find in the markets are pretty huge. This one (right) was modestly sized but I’ve had some sporting at least 40 little pink rootlets. Mostly they’re the elongated, pink-and-white kind that (known hors France, apparently, as French breakfast radishes), and they’re always sold with the greenery intact, which is nipped tightly together into a ponytail with a lacky bang. As a way of presenting them, it’s so much more alluring than those horrid little triangular cellophane bags containing half a dozen wizened specimens that you find in UK supermarkets. Besides, the leaves are a dead giveaway on freshness – wilting greenery is a clue that the radishes will be wrinkled and woody.

The problem about the generous cut of the French bunches is that there are only so many radishes a girl can eat. After I’ve done the radis-beurre thing, thrown a few into a salad and chopped up some more as a garnish for frijoles refritos, I run out of ideas and they get stuck in the bottom of the salad drawer, the leaves yellowing, the rootlets puckering up sadly.

Enter pickled radishes.

Mildly spicy and shockingly pink, these are terrific with burgers or tacos, or scattered sparingly over salad or crostini. Best of all, they keep for weeks, ready to be scooped out and scattered with gay abandon over whatever you fancy.

Here’s what you need:

1 large bunch radishes, about 30
250ml/1 cup water
250ml/1 cup white wine or cider vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
A pinch of red chilli flakes
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 clove garlic, peeled

First trim greenery and root ends off radishes, then slice them very thinly with a small sharp knife, taking care not to cut your nails and/or shave layers of skin off your fingers.

Put the slices in a 500ml jar with lid.

Place remaining ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer briefly till salt and sugar are dissolved. Pour hot over the sliced radishes.

Their simple pink and white colour will turn a rather gorgeous, evenly distributed candy pink.

Let them cool, then cover the jar with a lid or clingfilm. Keep refrigerated and fish them out whenever you need a cheeky, spicy little garnish, as in…

crostini (3)-001
crostini with slivers of cold turkey, pearl barley, rucola, feta and herbs
1-1-smoked trout, pickled radishes, lettuce, cucumber, borage
smoked trout on Little Gem lettuce with borage flowers
mackerel ceviche on country bread
mackerel ceviche on country bread with pickled radishes
corn cake duck burgers with chipotle mayo

3 thoughts on “French Radish Love

  1. I had not been a big fan of radishes until I discovered a recipe for seared radish crostini in the New York Times a few years ago (see link below. I had trouble trying to copy the recipe to here). Now I make it throughout the local radish season (including last night). Radishes are plentiful at the farmers markets here, and while most of them are round fat radishes, you do find a few farmers selling “French” radishes.

    1. Somehow cooking radishes (either by pickling, searing or cooking briefly with other vegetables) is a revelation, right Bob? Tks for the link, sounds great!

      1. Sue, from what I remember of the article that accompanied the recipe, the writer said something about how no one seemed to ever cook radishes, and she decided to give it a try. And it was a big success.

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