To most Americans, celery equals crunch, particularly when this vegetable is diced and added to chicken, tuna, or seafood salad. Celery, however, also plays a big role in mirepoix, the aromatic vegetable base that begins many soups, stews, and braises.
The most common variety of celery is called Pascal, a cultivated form of wild celery grown for its sturdy green stalks, or ribs. But you may find other varieties, especially at farmers markets.
Most people think of celery as a bit player, adding crunch to a salad or an aromatic edge to a pot of soup, but I’ve been a fan forever. I like its bold, salty-herbaceous flavor so much that I often make it the star of the dish. I also appreciate its range: Raw, it can be the freshest, crispest bite on the plate, yet it can also cook to perfect tenderness. When cooking with celery, I tend to gravitate toward assertive, complementary flavors, such as garlic, sharp cheeses, and herbs like tarragon and rosemary.
1 medium rib = about 2/3 cup diced
Celery ribs (also called stalks) grow in a head (also called a bunch). Though the tough bottom is usually trimmed away, the whole head is edible, and each part can play a different role in a dish. Look for celery with ribs that are firm, not rubbery.
The most commonly cultivated variety of celery is Pascal (shown below), which has a compact shape, thick outer ribs, and a mild, somewhat salty flavor. At the farmers’ market, you may spy varieties like Tango, which has darker, more spindly and curvaceous ribs topped by an abundance of leaves and a stronger, slightly more bitter flavor. Somewhat confusingly, celery root (celeriac) comes not from the celery plant we eat but from a cousin.
Inside the head, you’ll find the celery heart: smaller, lighter colored, less fibrous ribs. They’re perfect for when you want a more delicate flavor and subtle crunch. (Lobster salad comes to mind.) There’s generally no need to peel them.
The outer ribs offer the most crunch and color and hold up well during cooking. It’s a good idea to peel any you plan to eat raw or cooked in large pieces; thinly sliced or chopped ribs or those destined for the stockpot can remain unpeeled.
Think of celery leaves as a fresh herb. Add them with celery ribs to flavor stocks and broths. Or add them to a dish just before serving; the fresh leaves lend an herbaceous, slightly peppery flavor. The smaller, frilly inner leaves are especially nice used whole, while larger outer leaves are best thinly sliced or chopped.
Despite their tiny size, celery seeds are a potent source of the warm, aromatic flavor of celery. They come not from cultivated celery but a wild variety called smallage. A key player in pickling spices, celery seeds are often added to slaws and potato salad, as well as marinades and dressings. In the recipes here, they underscore celery’s flavor.
Pull away the outer most ribs (unless you are starting with celery hearts). These tougher ribs are best reserved for the soup pot. Trim away the very top and the base of the rib and wash well. Even interior celery stalks benefit from peeling away the fibrous strings, easy to do by running a vegetable peeler along the length of the stalk. Use the leaves as well as the stalks; the leaves have a more subtle celery flavor and can be used like an herb, similar to how you would use parsley.
Wrap celery in plastic and store in the vegetable crisper drawer in the refrigerator where it will keep for up to 2 weeks.