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Celeriac Schnitzel

Written By Culinary Pen on Saturday, March 22, 2014 | 12:00:00 PM

A few months ago Herwig's, a local Austrian restaurant by me, had a special on celeriac schnitzel.  Sadly, the last two portions for that day were sold to the customer in front of Carla, so we missed out.  But it had me thinking, why celeriac?  Celeriac is a root vegetable and related to celery, but grown for its tuberous root, rather than the stems.  Celeriac is widely available today in grocery stores, but it is mostly imported from Holland, and can vary widely in quality.  You can find good, seasonal celeriac in some farmer's markets, but only irregularly.
Celeriac looks like Cthulhu's head.
I've had a range of "schnitzels" from pork and veal to a very surprising Mangalista liver schnitzel at Mosefund farm's Pigstock.  So was this celeriac schnitzel some "poor man's" variant on a traditional meat schnitzel?  It wouldn't surprise me.  There's the "mock turtle soup," which is a veal head cooked to resemble the gelatinous meat of sea turtle; "phoney abalone," which is chicken marinated in clam juice; and "city chicken," another veal dish, when veal was cheaper than chicken.
Steamed celeriac slices.
But after digging through a whole bunch of old cookbooks and trudging through the dubiously accurate world wide web, I actually think this is a very modern innovation.  I found no reference to this preparation in either regional cook books, or the authoritative Laurousse Gastronomic or Harold McGee.  Most of the recipes I found were on vegan or vegetarian websites and blogs listing this as a de-meated revamp of the classic schnitzel recipe.  So I was totally wrong on my whole "mock schnitzel" theory.  Still, I gave cooking it a shot.
Celeriac Schnitzel
Celeriac discolors quickly upon peeling, so it needs a good rub of lemon juice over the cut surface.  Then I cut the tuber into 3/4" slabs and simmered them until tender.  These were briefly cooled before being dipped in egg and then sourdough bread crumbs.  Sauteed in olive oil, the breadcrumbs took on a nice brown tone, but the actually celeriac never colored.  I served the celeriac topped with sauteed mushrooms and a green salad on the side.  The celeriac has a very mild, slightly sweet flavor, and a nice bit of crunch from the topping.

It was a very nice dish, although it bore little to no resemblance to a traditional schnitzel.  Carla and I serve a vegetarian meal a least once or twice a week, usually something with tofu, tempeh, or miso.  This was a nice change, although I did feel like we were missing a source of protein, as this was just vegetable with vegetable.  I think to make this dish again, I might add chickpeas to the salad, or even coat the sliced celeriac in nuts rather than bread crumbs.

But it still leaves me to wonder, of all the oddball vegetables in the world, why make this with celeriac?
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