The 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 once, 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.
Because radishes are so beloved in France, the bunches you find in the markets are pretty huge. The one pictured above was modestly sized, but I’ve known some to sport 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.
Cue for 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, and give them a good rinse in cold water.
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.
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…