Chef Sean Fowler shares his tips and tricks for using seasonal produce. This month: Radishes.
For years the French Breakfast Radish was an enigma to me—did the French really eat radishes for breakfast? Could they be consumed at other meals as well? Weren’t radishes just colorful, waterlogged salad bar toppings? Due to personal laziness in a pre-Google world, I was well into adulthood before I gained clarity on any of these questions. And I have since developed a genuine appreciation for the perfect simplicity that is a French Breakfast Radish. Unlike a common red radish, it has a pointed, oblong shape and fades in color from pink at its top to white at its tip. The French Breakfast, generally a bit sweeter and milder than other common red varieties, is known for its refreshing crunch with just a hint of spice.
The French do, in fact, eat these pink beauties for breakfast—either raw with butter and sea salt or sliced on top of a buttered baguette. But no, they are not just for breakfast. One of my greatest culinary epiphanies came embarrassingly late in my career: radishes aren’t just for raw consumption, they are also delicious when cooked. I blame my ignorance about the versatility of the radish on the same 1980s culinary tradition of underutilization, that convinced us that kale and parsley were just window dressing and not fit for human consumption. I was thrilled to discover that radishes become even sweeter and more complex, almost nutty, when lightly sautéed in butter or even drizzled in olive oil and oven-roasted. Suddenly, radishes transitioned from mere salad garnishes to power players in the world of root vegetables.
At Mandolin farm, we grow either D’avignon or Nelson varieties of French Breakfast Radishes in all but the hottest months of the summer, when they become tough and incredibly spicy. I prefer spring radishes when they are at their sweetest. They also pair beautifully with so many other spring ingredients like peas, mint, chervil, beets, cucumbers, lettuces and sorrel. While I do love the perfect simplicity of a fresh, raw radish with butter, I also enjoy them pickled, fermented, roasted, grilled and even confit. I find them equally suited to be served raw, as a crunch component on a cheese plate or roasted with fresh herbs and citrus for a bed for grilled striped bass.
RECIPE: Pan Roasted Radish and Ricotta Tartine
2 half slices of La Farm Bakery sourdough
6 ounces French breakfast radishes, quartered lengthwise
2 teaspoons canola oil
Juice of ½ lemon
¾ cup fresh ricotta
1 ounce pea tendrils
3 tablespoons lightly chopped, fresh mint
salt and black pepper
Toast the slices of bread. Heat the oil in a medium sauté until it begins to shimmer. Cook the radishes over medium heat flipping them occasionally until they are golden brown on all sides and cooked al dente (about 2-3 minutes). Remove radishes form the heat, season them with salt and pepper and toss them in lemon juice. Spread the ricotta on the two slices of bread and season it with salt and pepper. Top toast with the radishes and garnish them with the pea tendrils and fresh mint.
Sean Fowler is the owner and chef at Mandolin Restaurant on Fairview Road. He owns and operates Mandolin Farm, providing produce for the menu at his restaurant.