Chopping celery is one of those kitchen chores that seems to occur regularly. Celery (apium graveolensis dulce) a fibrous green vegetable that originated as a marsh plant. Therefore, it loves water. It is also fond of rich soil, responds poorly to high heat and is generally a picky plant that has specific requirements to grow well.
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In spite of that, it is a valued vegetable in the supermarket and is not usually too highly priced. A scrubbed celery stalk can be eaten in its natural state, or it can be cut into a variety of shapes and sizes for addition to all sorts of recipes. Celery leaves can be used instead of parsley as a garnish, and celery seed can add flavor to soups and stews.
It should not be confused with its cousin, celeriac or celery root. The roots of the celery stalks usually seen in the grocery store are long and fibrous. Celery root (Apium graveolens var. rapaceum) is a close cousin of the familiar plant cultivated for its long, green stalks. The plant looks a great deal like celery, but the stalks are short and sparse.
The root, instead of being the several grass-like roots of a standard celery plant, is an ugly knob of a bulb. Scrubbed, peeled and cut into pieces, it can be cooked like a turnip.
How to Chop Celery
There is no set method that needs to be used to chop celery. It is most easily and safely done with a sharp knife and a cutting board. A chef knife can make the cutting or chopping a quick, safe process.
Cutting Celery Without a Cutting Board
When I was a little girl our home kitchen was a small, cluttered area that often housed a young calf that needed to be brought in out of winter weather or housed an incubator of chicks. Finding a surface for a cutting board could be a real challenge. Therefore, I often watched my mother cut the washed celery directly into a soup or stew pot.
She would hold the stalk in her left hand and use a paring knife to quickly cut from one edge of the stalk to the other, using her left thumb to brace the stalk. (She would cut carrots this way, too.) This method requires some skill but does cut down on the space and equipment used.
The Safer Way to Cut Celery
For those of us who are less skilled with a knife, the best method is to use a cutting board that is dedicated to cutting vegetables as a base, and a good, sharp chef’s knife.
Place the celery with the rounded top up and the edges down on the cutting board. You can then use either a rocking motion to quickly chop the celery, or you can draw the knife across the celery stalk to slice it. As noted above, this also makes it easy to create celery stalks by turning the celery lengthwise, and simply rocking the knife down on the center of the cut stalk.
The leafy tops on whole celery stalks can have their part in your meal preparation. They can be substituted in recipes that call for parsley as a garnish. They can also be snipped into small pieces using kitchen shears and added to a salad or cooked dish. They are usually not as strongly flavored as the stalks, especially the blanched leaves in the center of the stalk, and can add a delicate flavor to cream sauces and a little interest to bland dishes such as mushroom soup.
Chopped celery is usually cut across the grain of the fibrous celery stalks, creating little green half-circles. These can be added to salads, soups, and stews to good effect. They retain their shape, even after cooking. Chopping is usually done with a chef’s knife that can be used in a rocking motion to quickly cut through the stalks.
Sliced celery is cut diagonally to the grain. The cut can be done to create interest, to cause a broader surface opening or as preparation for making celery sticks. The knife is drawn across the back of the celery stalk, rather than being brought down upon it in a chopping motion.
Finely chopped celery is often used in soups or salads were having a large piece of celery is not desirable. An easy way to create finely chopped celery is to cut several celery stalks lengthwise as if you were making celery stalks. Hold the cut pieces together and use a chef’s knife to quickly chop several at once, creating pieces that are about ¼ inch or even slightly less across.
Cut celery can be made into short chunky pieces, such as often appear on vegetable trays or sliced into celery sticks. The easiest way to do this is to first separate the stalks. Next wash them, because no matter how well celery is cleaned before being marketed the stalks will retain some of the earth or sand in which they are grown.
Cut off the leafy tops and the rough bottoms of the stalks, then, placing the celery curved side up and edges down, cut across the celery. Next, turn the stalk so that the knife can glide or chop down the center of the stalk, parallel to the fibers, creating celery stalks.
How to Store Chopped Celery
As with all fruits and vegetables, when the celery is cut the exposure to air provides greater opportunity for decay. Correct storage will help keep your work safe – an important point if you want to prepare food ahead for your family or for a special event. Fortunately, it is super easy to keep it fresh for a day or two.
Chopped Celery or Small Pieces
For short amounts of time, such as overnight or to transport it, place the celery in a ceramic bowl and cover it with aluminum foil or a cloth. Do not cover with plastic because that will trap the ethylene, the gas that triggers ripening. In this case, ethylene will increase the rate of decay.
Celery sticks can be treated almost as if they are a bouquet. Place the cut sticks in a jar of water so that about two thirds of the stick is submerged. The sticks will wick up the water and remain fresh and crisp for about 48 hours.
Make Ahead Celery Pieces
Very small celery pieces that are destined to become part of a stir-fry, soup or stew can be kept overnight in a plastic bag with a little salt water to help keep it moist. The salt will slow the decay. Rinse the celery in clear water before using.
Knowing how to chop celery is a useful skill, especially when preparing traditional holiday meals that include stuffing, vegetable plates, soups, and stews. Celery can be used in stir-fry, stuffing, soup, and salads, adding both bulk and nutrition.
It is often recommended to people who want to lose weight because it is exceptionally low in calories yet contains several excellent vitamins as well as an abundance of fiber. The stalks are usually the main part of the celery to be used, but the leafy tops can be used as garnish or snipped with kitchen shears to be added to soups or stews.