If you like horseradish, there is none better than Atomic Horseradish. It is truly nuclear in its flavor. I've never had anything clear out my head the way Atomic Horseradish does. This product from Southern California's Morehouse Foods has been around for over 50 years and the not-so-secret reason for its hot taste is that they grind parsnips into the horseradish which controls the natural bitterness in the taste bringing out more of the heat in the horseradish. The result is a mind-numbing, nostril-clearing explosion with each bite.
Of course, there's personal stories behind Atomic Horseradish. And I've got three of them to tell you.
The first time I was exposed to Atomic Horseradish, I was eating at The Steakhouse in Circus Circus in Las Vegas. I have to tell you - if you ever get the chance to go to Las Vegas, take the time and go to The Steakhouse at Circus Circus. I know, I know. Those of you who have been to Vegas and are thinking, "Circus Circus?!", the Steakhouse is like an anomaly, an oasis of great food in a sea of the crappy side of Las Vegas.
I was out there for the Consumer Electronics Show in the late 80's and having dinner with my boss at the time and a colleague. My colleague got the prime rib that evening and the waiter brought out creamy horseradish. He asked the waiter if he had any thing more potent - not the stuff you give to tourists. The waiter brought out a small bowl of pure ground horseradish. My co-worker took a dab, slathered it on the piece of prime rib he just cut off, and took a bite.
His eyes immediately got wide, his face got red and he started making this "mmmmMMMMM!" type of noise. He had just gotten a full hit of horseradish. He asked the waiter, "This is the most POTENT horseradish I've ever had in my life! What is the name of it?"
The waiter said, "Atomic Horseradish, sir."
My colleague said, "No, really, is that the name of it? Or is that what you call it?"
The waiter said, "No, sir, that's the brand name. I'll get a jar and show you."
So the waiter goes back into the kitchen. In the meantime, I'm having a filet tenderloin that is, literally, a 3" cube of meat. It's so thick that in order to make it medium rare they had to char the outsides. And it's cooked perfect. So I asked if I could try some of the Atomic Horseradish and he slides the bowl over toward me. He warns me, "Take it easy, it's lethal!"
I put a little nickel size dollop on the piece I just cut and took a bite. OH-MY-GAWD!!! It was like a taste explosion in my mouth. My eyes started to water, I lost my breath for a second, my nose cavity had drained, it was like nothing I'd ever experienced.
In the meantime, while I'm trying to recover, the waiter comes out with a jar and right on it, it said, "Atomic Brand Horseradish". We were just stunned.
So, suddenly, I'm on a hunt. I look everywhere for the stuff. We had to stop in grocery stores all over Las Vegas. Couldn't find it. Turned out that it was only available in restaurants in Las Vegas. I was bummed.
Jump ahead to 1994 - Las Vegas again. This time, I was working for another manufacturer's rep firm and we were invited to dinner by one of our manufacturers to the venerable old Phillips Supper Club, a place that was one of the finest places to eat for years in Las Vegas. (Since Las Vegas has been overrun with five star restaurants over the past 10 years, the old 60's style supper clubs like Phillips Supper Club have gone out of existence. According to a friend who had been living in Las Vegas since the early 80's, Phillips, at one time, was THE place to eat in Las Vegas.)
There were some other things going on that other people in our company had to attend, so a co-worker and I went as representatives of our company. We sat at a table with 6 other guys who were with a representative company out of New York. And, of course, being from the Midwest, they were picking on us all night. "Hey, Iowa! If you order the steak, does that mean you can butcher the cow yourself?" Stuff like that...
I had eaten at Phillips Supper Club a few years before and remembered the prime rib was outstanding, so I ordered that. When it came out, I asked the waiter for some high octane horseradish. The loudmouths from NYC started in again, "Hey, farmboy! Whattsa matta? You can't handle the horseradish?"
I said, "No, I'm looking for the hotter stuff."
So the waiter brings out a little container of fresh ground horseradish. I put a dollop on a piece of prime rib and took a bite. Immediately, the taste sensation that I remembered from about six years prior came back. And my face turned red, my eyes watered and the guys from New York were having a good laugh at me. "What's the matter, Iowa? Can't handle the high octane stuff they gave you?"
I said, "Oh, no! That's great stuff. I wonder if it's Atomic Horseradish?"
One of the guys said, "Atomic Horseradish? What the hell you talkin' about?"
I said, "I've had this stuff out here called Atomic Horseradish. It's almost lethal. I wonder if this is the same stuff."
Another guy said, "Oh, now the farmboy can tell differences in horseradish. That's something I've never seen. Do they teach you how to tell horseradish apart in the Future Farmer's club?"
I ignored that guy and waved down the waiter. I said, "Is this Atomic Horseradish?"
The waiter said, "I don't know. But I'll check for you."
One of the NYC guys goes, "Yeah, go check so you put his mind at ease, would ya, buddy? I don't want the midwest boy to fret over his horseradish."
So the waiter leaves and comes back with a quart jar of - yep, you guessed it - Atomic Horseradish. The eyes of the guys from New York all got real huge when they saw the jar. "Holy shit! There really IS shit called Atomic Horseradish! Jesus! The guy knows what he's talkin' about, here!"
I said to the waiter, "You know, I've been trying to find some of that stuff for a long time, but I guess it's not available in stores. I'd like to get some if you know where I could get it."
The waiter reached across the table and handed the jar to me. He said, "It's yours!"
I had to keep it on ice the rest of the time I was out there because you can't let it go unrefrigerated for up to 60 hours at a time. It loses it's power.
Oh - and the guys from New York? They left me alone the rest of the night.
My wife and I took a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway around 1997. We stopped in Ventura, California, the home of Atomic Brand Horseradish, to see if it may be available in stores there. Nope. Still only available in Las Vegas restaurants.
Finally, one time around 2000, I was perusing the internet one night and put in a search for Atomic Horseradish and found a place in California named Smith and Smith that was selling 6 oz. jars of the stuff. I immediately ordered six jars and a couple days later showing up on my doorstep were the six jars of Atomic Horseradish. I was in heaven!
Cindy thought it was a little too strong at first, but she got used to it. (Nowadays, when we have steak or any beef product, she lays on the Atomic Horseradish. And I've got a great recipe for Horseradish encrusted Salmon that is to die for.
By the way, the place I was buying Atomic Horseradish from - Smith and Smith - was bought out by a guy who ran a site called Chile Head Salsa. He had even more varieties of Atomic Horseradish. He had Onion Atomic Horseradish, Mustard Atomic Horseradish and my favorite, Roasted Garlic Atomic Horseradish. He also had Atomic Brand Shrimp Sauce. I bought one of those one time and got a half pound of shrimp to eat one night when my wife was gone visiting her sister or something. I dipped a grilled shrimp into that stuff and HOLY SHIT!!! Now, I can handle hot stuff, but this was FREAKING HOT!!! It was so hot it was inedible.
Unfortunately, the company who was making the Atomic Horseradish sold out to another company. The new owners informed Chile Head Salsa that they were not going to make the Atomic Horseradish available to sell over the internet any longer. Not to be deterred, the guy from Chili Head Salsa, Ron Ellis, went out and found a purveyor of horseradish that he could package as his own. This became Nuclear Horseradish. I'm not kidding you - I've got the jars in the my fridge in the garage.
I asked him via e-mail if the Nuclear was better than the Atomic and he wrote back and said, "I think it is."
I wrote back and said, "Well, I wouldn't expect you to say anything to the contrary." So he sent me out a three pack of the Nuclear regular horseradish, the Onion and the Roasted Garlic. They did seem to have a little more of a head clearing kick to them. So I ordered up a case of Roasted Garlic (they make wonderful little gifts for friends and clients).
Just the other day, I went through another jar of the stuff and I went out to the garage to get another jar. Whoops! I'm down to TWO left? Holy crap! I'd better look into ordering more. So I go to the Chile Head Salsa site. Not there any longer. I e-mailed Ron Ellis. The e-mail got bounced back to me. In a panic, I tried a Google search for Chile Head Salsa. Nothing. Uh, oh...
So I did a search on Atomic Horseradish and it took me to a couple places. The one that looked the most interesting (because they were selling other sauces and condiments on the site) was Cosmic Chile out of Bozeman, MT. I e-mailed the place to make sure this was one and the same Atomic Brand Horseradish and Eric Vinje wrote me back and said that yes, indeed, this was the same stuff that Smith and Smith was selling up to the time that Chile Head Salsa took over the web site.
He told me he didn't know what happened to Chile Head Salsa, but his business has picked up since they went away.
(UPDATE November 2015 - Since it's been 10 years since I wrote this entry, there's now a number of places to buy Atomic Horseradish on-line. True Natural Taste out of Agoura Hills, CA has it available by clicking here. Or it's also available from Amazon by clicking here. It's best to do the two-day option - as I said, it can't be out of refrigeration any more than 72 hours. When I order it to be delivered to my home, I do it in the winter time so the jars will at least be cold in the trucks.)
(UPDATE April 2016 - Late last year, my wife took me to Lucky's Market in Iowa City, a specialty grocery store chain based out of Boulder, CO. We were looking around and I remembered that I needed some fresh ground horseradish. When I got to where they had the fresh horseradish in the refrigerated section of the store I couldn't believe my eyes. They had Atomic Horseradish! Then a couple three weeks later, my step-son sent me a picture of a jar of Atomic Horseradish and asked if this was the stuff that we liked to get. I told him it was and he said that he found it at The Fresh Market in Cedar Rapids, part of a chain of upscale grocery stores based out of North Carolina. If you have a Lucky's Market or a Fresh Market location near you, you may want to check it out.)
One final story on Atomic Horseradish - Earlier this year, my company is out in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. We're all eating in a restaurant in the Golden Nugget and I ordered a steak and asked if they could bring out fresh ground horseradish with it. They brought out my steak and the horseradish, I took one bite and immediately knew it was Atomic Horseradish.
One of my colleagues ordered the prime rib and he asked to try it. I said, "Have you ever had this stuff before?" He said he hadn't. I said, "Don't take too much."
So he put a fingernail sized chunk of Atomic Horseradish on a piece of the prime rib. He took a bite and he immediately got red in the face, he started coughing, he was gasping for breath. He said, "That shit is LETHAL!"
Lethal seems to be the term most used in conjunction with Atomic Horseradish.
I took about three times the size he used on his piece and put it on a piece I'd just cut on my steak. My co-worker said, "Oh, there's no way. You're just showing off, now."
I said, "No, I'm used to this stuff. I've been eating it since 1988 and regularly for five years at home."
I took a bite, and - as usual - my face went red, my eyes started watering, my nose cavity cleared, I lost my breath. I'm pounding on the table trying to get my senses back to square one and when I finally did, I looked up and everyone is sitting there with a big smile on their faces. I said, "Now, that's the way to eat Atomic Horseradish, boys..."