Mushrooms

Earthy, pungent, mushrooms are many chefs’ obsession.  Where do we get the best foraged mushrooms??  What time of year do black foot chantrelles come out?  I can’t wait for spring, I’ve got a killer morel mushroom dish I’m going to run with favas, asparagus, etc etc.

To this day, my favorite mushroom is the portabella.  Many chefs say their favorites are the porcini, or the lobster mushroom, or the black trumpet, or some other extremely expensive rare breed.  I love the portabella.  Grilled with olive oil and sea salt, they take on a meaty, robust flavor that pairs so well with so many other things.  They’re delicious.

Pairing mushrooms:  What do mushrooms go with?  Sauteed and served with beef in a brandy peppercorn sauce?  Absolutely.  But what is the key to bringing out their earthy flavor and pairing it properly with foods? My answer:  fat.  Their earthy flavor is absorbed and complimented best by things that have high fat content. Like mushroom omelets, mushroom risotto, rich demi-glace based sauces (like peppercorn and brandy), chicken and portabella alfredo, and so on.   You need to cook them in fat (olive oil, butter). Just like truffles, who are in the same family, mushrooms need a rich host to really shine.

I also think mushrooms can be an intimidating ingredient sometimes.  How do you wash them?  How do you store them?  How do you cook them??

Improperly handled and cooked mushrooms will retract from a dish, not enhance it.  Mushrooms, in composition, are mostly water.  Underneath their firm dry exterior, they are nothing but water.  Exposing that dry fragile exterior to water immediately turns the entire mushroom into a soggy mess.

Same goes for cooking mushrooms.  Heaping sliced mushrooms into a cold saute pan will, in the end, leave you with a boiled mess.  Why?  Because when the mushrooms begin releasing their water, they steam the mushroom on top of it.  And so on.  They will leach out all their flavor and leave you with rubbery flavorless mushrooms.

To properly cook mushrooms, begin with a very hot pan.  Add a neutral oil (such as canola) and slide the mushrooms into the pan so they are no more than single layer in depth and the pan isn’t over crowded.  Let them brown, don’t move them around.  Flip once.  Season after flipping (salt brings out water).  Let them drain on paper towel while you are starting your next batch.  Or grill them.  Both ways work.

This is one of my older recipes, and still a great one.

Spiced Roasted Mushrooms
Ingredients:
1 cup shitakes, julienne
1 cup oyster mushroom, rough chop
1 cup criminis, quartered
1 cup button mushrooms, ¼ in slices
1 cup chanterelles, cleaned and cut lengthwise
Any other wild mushroom available, such as cepes, woodear, lobster mushrooms, etc
1 bay leaf
½ lb butter
star anise
2 cloves garlic
cardamom seeds
black pepper corns
1 cinnamon stick
fennel seed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
kosher salt
Procedure:
Mix all the mushrooms together and liberally salt. Place the mushrooms in a 400 or 600 half pan (deep roasting pan) so the mushrooms fill the pan. Place all the herbs and spices in a cheesecloth sachet (or large coffee filter tied with string) and place in the center. Cover the sachet with mushrooms. Evenly distribute the butter over the mushrooms. Cover tightly with parchment paper and aluminum foil. Bake in 400 degree oven for approx 45 min. When cooked, mix again, check the salt level again, and let cool in fond (their own juices) and spices in cheesecloth.
To serve, reheat the mushrooms by lightly sautéing to add color, add chicken stock and unsalted whole butter.   
Enjoy.
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