Radishes, Buttered and Salted the French Way

I find spring radishes irresistible. I love the way they look; I love their red and white jackets and their abundant leaves; and I love that they’re displayed like bouquets in the Paris markets. And I’m crazy about the way the French serve raw radishes: stuffed with butter and speckled with salt.

As my friend Cédric demonstrated the other night, there’s a way to cut, butter and salt the radishes and it’s the way his father used to do it (and probably the way it’s been done forever throughout France). After you’ve lopped off the leaves (more about them in a minute), keeping a couple of inches of stem, and rinsed the radishes, the rest is simple: slice off the root, cut the radish in half to the base, taking care not to separate the pieces, put some softened butter in the slit, press the halves together so that some of the butter pops out the sides and then dip the radish lightly in a saucer of salt (fleur de sel is nice here). It’s truly a treat.

The idea behind buttering radishes is not dissimilar to that of having butter with Roquefort cheese – the butter tones down the strong flavors. It’s a little trick the French play to bring foods into balance and it works.

And it works even if your radishes are mild and almost sweet, as mine were. I was lucky to get radishes that were young and fresh and not the least bit hot – a usual characteristic of slightly older radishes – and, consequently, their leaves were also mild. In fact, the leaves were so mild they could have been used as salad greens.

Because I had a house full of people Saturday night, I only had time to rinse the radishes and to set the greens aside. But yesterday (after the 27 glasses were washed and put away!), I returned to the greens and turned them into a quick sauce.


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Radish-Leaf Sauce for Buttered and Salted Radishes … and more

Wash the radish leaves several times – the leaves are inevitably sandy – and, after coarsely chopping them, pulse them in a food processor with a chopped spring onion, grated lemon zest, a squeeze of juice and fleur de sel (you can use kosher salt) and then whirr in olive oil until you’ve got a chunky pesto-like sauce. I could have added cheese and garlic, but I wanted to keep things light. And, while I’m going to use the sauce with a fish crudo (if I don’t change my mind and pour it over pasta), yesterday afternoon I made a double-radish snack, dunking the buttered radishes in the radish-leaf pesto.