I’m working on a project that involves finding the best of the best, food wise, in Paris. To that end, I’ve discovered many things, among them an amazing way to cook and enjoy black radishes.
Black radishes are a fixture of the French winter farmers’ market. They’re fat, long and crisp, they look like a sin and they taste like heaven. Just like a red radish, they can be hot or mild, and they provide rare crunch and juiciness in the dead of winter.
They are considered both food and medicine here. As food, they are sliced thin, put on a baguette that is slathered with butter, and seasoned with fleur de sel and pepper. I serve them this way often as an amuse-bouche. They are always a welcome surprise.
If you have a sore throat, the best cure (according to farmers at the market), is to boil a grated black radish with a great deal of sugar and water until the mixture is golden and caramelized. The juice is said to heal the throat. I’ve never tried this because I almost never have a sore throat. But if you believe it will work, it probably will
Very few people I know actually eat black radishes and I am almost certain this is because they fit into the same category as the Jerusalem artichoke – old fashioned and exceedingly humble. When I’m at the market I watch what everyone buys, and the only people buying black radishes have a good decade or two on me. I do as they do, because those people know what to eat and when.
There is at least one youngster out there making hay with the black radish. His name is Toyomitsu Nakayama, he is the chef and owner of the jewel-like little bistro in the 6th arrondissement called Toyo, and he was once the personal chef for Kenzo. Naturally, when I went to the restaurant I wore my royal blue Kenzo wool scarf, for fun.
Mr. Nakayama turns out gorgeous dishes, each a delicate work of art with commensurately delicate yet distinct flavor. We enjoyed so many dishes, but the one that stole my heart was the steamed black radish cake. Mr. Nakayama told me how to make it, which I did as soon as I returned home. It’s simple, though not simple to succeed quite the way Mr. Nakayama does. I’ll need to return to Toyo often to taste his version, but meanwhile I’m quite happy with mine, which I want to share with you here. This is a work in progress, a very tasty one!
STEAMED BLACK RADISH CAKES
GATEAUX AUX RADI NOIR A L’ETUVE
This Asian inspired appetizer is gorgeous in both flavor and texture, and it takes black radish to new heights! It is very simple to make, but it takes some planning because you want to chill the steamed radish mixture before you brown it, otherwise it is impossible to cut. Even steamed, cutting it into squares is a bit of a challenge, but you can do it!
Once you’ve tasted this, you’ll find yourself making it often, both as an appetizer and as a side dish, for grilled or steamed seafood.
For the radish cakes:
1 pound (500g) black radish, trimmed and peeled
1 medium yellow onion, peeled
1/3 cup white or brown rice flour
½ teaspoon sea salt or ½ teaspoon soy sauce, or to taste
Pinch of Piment d’Espelette
1 small bunch chives, or garlic chives
For the salad:
3/4 cup tiny greens, washed and patted dry
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
Fleur de sel
1. Grate the radish and the onion together, and put them into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Toss several times, to make sure they are thoroughly blended.
2. Sprinkle the rice flour over the mixture, along with the salt and the Piment d’Espelette and mix it into the vegetables until everything is combined.
3. Put a steamer filled with 4 cups water over medium-high heat.
4. Pat the radish mixture into two 4 x 6 inch, heat-proof pans.
5. Cut several chives into 4-inch lengths, on the bias, and arrange the chives atop the rice mixture. Cover with plastic wrap.
5. When the water in the steamer is boiling, set the dishes (or one dish at a time) in the steamer, cover, reduce the heat so the water is simmering vigorously, and steam the radish cake for one hour.
6. When the radish cake has steamed for one hour, remove it from the heat, remove the plastic wrap, and let the rice mixture cool, thoroughly. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight before eating. (Alternatively, you may eat the radish mixture direct from the steamer. It is delicious!)
7. When you are ready to make the cakes, heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat.
8. While the oil is heating, cut the rice cakes into 8 equal-sized squares.
9. When the oil is hot but not smoking, put the rice cakes in the oil and fry them until they are golden on the outside, and hot through, which will take about 3 minutes per side.
10. While the radish cakes are browning, whisk together the oil and the soy sauce. Add the salad and toss, then season with salt.
11. Transfer the rice cakes to the center of 8 small plates. Garnish with the salad and a chive or two laid over each serving. Serve immediately.
Toyo, 17 Jules Chaplain, Paris 6, Metro: Vavin Tel: 01.43.54.28.03