I was in Pittsburgh on business, eating at an establishment known for its beer selection and the spiciness of its wings. I had ordered some sandwich or another that came with a side of horseradish sauce. I expected good things from this sauce, based on the fearlessness of the spice in the wings.
I was disappointed. It was a weak, weak horseradish sauce. I had to strain just to detect hints of horseradish. It made me sad. I made uncomplimentary remarks about the chef's daring and sense of adventure. I may have called the chef some derogatory names that indicated a general lack of intestinal fortitude. And, most importantly, I was left wanting good horseradish sauce.
Fortunately, horseradish sauce is pretty darned easy to make, in theory. There are two steps: preparing the horseradish and mixing it with the base.
Making horseradish is much like making mustard, because they use the same source for their heat. A good mustard, horseradish, or wasabi will, on touching the roof of your mouth, pierce straight through the brain with its heat. It's a very different experience than capsaicin, which is responsible for the heat in chiles.
So to process horseradish, you start with the root:
Peel the root
Grate your horseradish
You could have instead cubed your horseradish and used a food processor to grate it. I didn't need that much, though, and didn't really feel like cleaning the food processor.
Combine your horseradish with water, and wait up to 15 minutes. The longer you wait, the hotter the horseradish should be. When it reaches the desired heat, add in some vinegar (or citrus juice, or some other acid) to stop the reaction which generates the heat.
Combine with your base. Generally, you use sour cream, but I made a batch of creme fraiche instead, because why not?
Don't forget the salt!
Enjoy with the traditional roast beef. Or, if your Whole Foods doesn't understand the difference when you order it, the corned beef that they actually give you.
Unfortunately, after all was said and done, the horseradish sauce was pretty weak. I tried a couple of batches, but I suspect that the quality and/or freshness of my horseradish root was not what it needed to be. The technique is solid and simple, though, so I will search through different stores to find a good supplier of horseradish. And I will apologize to the unnamed and unknown chef whom I maligned, even though that person never knew. Perhaps ingredients in Pittsburgh were as weak as they are in Charlottesville. Perhaps spring horseradish is not as good as winter horseradish. I will search until I find the answer.