A great excuse to eat mushrooms. January 9, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: gourmet mushrooms, Jane Austen, mushroom recipes, mushrooms, oyster mushroom recipes, oyster mushrooms, ragout, wild mushrooms
Silence Dogood here. While the gentlemen of the party were watching the Steelers snatch defeat from the jaws of victory yesterday afternoon, my friend Carolyn took me on a driving tour of the historic barns of nearby Pike Township, PA. We ended the scenic drive with a visit to some friends of Carolyn’s that also happen to be mushroom growers.
They gave us a tour of their mushroom setup, which was fascinating to a mushroom-lover like yours truly. We saw the huge sterilizing tanks for the growing medium, the specialized room where the medium was inoculated with mushroom spawn, and the large growing room where the bags of medium produced an assortment of gourmet mushrooms. Wow!
Then, just as we were leaving, the couple presented me with a huge box of freshly harvested oyster mushrooms. (Think those crates that tangerines and clementines come in.) WOW!!! They mentioned that their favorite way to eat them was roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and herbs.
Well, our friend Ben and I love roasted mushrooms, but I doubted that we could manage to roast (much less eat) the whole boxfull while the mushrooms were still fresh. OFB and I also love a dish of mushrooms and sweet onions in Marsala or Madeira wine sauce over rice or pasta, but it’s a rich dish and one evening of it is plenty for at least a month.
“Why don’t you just cook them down and freeze them?” Carolyn (who’d declined my offer of half the box, saying she preferred “regular” mushrooms) suggested. Well, clearly she hasn’t taken a peek in our freezer lately. And it seemed like a shame to freeze such delicate treats.
Clearly, I needed help. So I turned to my trio of mushroom cookbooks. The first one, Start Mushrooming (Stan Tekiela and Karen Shanberg, Adventure Publications, 1993), isn’t really a cookbook, but rather a guide to identifying and harvesting wild mushrooms, but it includes recipes. The authors describe oyster mushrooms as having a mild, nutty flavor, sometimes with a hint of anise. (They’re called oyster mushrooms because of their appearance, not their flavor.) And they provided this recipe for enjoying them:
Mom’s Old-Fashioned Potatoes and Oyster Mushrooms
2 cups fresh oyster mushrooms
6 medium red potatoes, peeled and cubed
5 scallions (green onions), chopped fine
4 tablespoons butter, divided
Boil the prepared potatoes until soft. Saute the onions and mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of the butter. Drain the potatoes and pour them into the saute pan with the onions and mushrooms. With a fork or potato masher, mash the potatoes until smooth. Add the remaining butter in small amounts. Extra butter may be added as needed. 2-4 servings. Note: These potatoes will not be smooth in texture, but that is the point of this old-fashioned recipe.
Hmmm. The potatoes clearly wouldn’t be smooth, especially if you saute the mushrooms whole rather than slicing or dicing them! I’d definitely chop them, and either mash the potatoes in the pot they were cooked in with a little milk or half-and-half before stirring the contents of the saute pan into them or undercook the cubed potatoes and toss them into the saute pan with the mushrooms to make hash browns. I wouldn’t peel them, either. And I’d probably add half a diced sweet onion along with or instead of the scallions.
Let’s move on to the next cookbook, Joe’s Book of Mushroom Cookery (Jack Czarnecki, Atheneum, 1986), written by the grandson of the founder of Joe’s, a famous restaurant in Reading, PA specializing in wild mushrooms and wild game. (It operated continuously from 1916 to 1986, and its closing was so lamented that The New York Times published an obituary.)
Chef Czarnecki notes that “For texture the oyster mushroom is one of the choicest commercial varieties available. The entire body of the mushroom can be used, and it is a wondrous silky mushroom that is a joy to use in almost any mushroom dish.” He also says it needs butter and onion to enhance its mild flavor and that it can be frozen (after braising) or canned. Like our hosts, he likes to grill large oyster mushroom caps, sprinkling on grated parmesan when the mushrooms’ edges “begin to toast” and serving as soon as the cheese melts. He also likes to deep-fry them to make Mock Fried Oysters.
Hmmm again. I love fried foods, I confess, but am not about to fry anything at home, since I hate grease. But it’s encouraging to see that recommendation that oyster mushrooms can be used in almost any mushroom dish. (Maybe not in spaghetti sauce, but I could see sauteed oyster mushrooms layered into a lasagna, as an omelette filling, and topping a thin-crust pizza.)
Time to take a look in the third book, Mushrooms: Favorite Recipes (Andrea Kosslinger and Sibylle Reiter, Silverback Books, 2005, translated from the German). True to its origins, this book features German cuisine, including a lot of recipes for game. But there are plenty of recipes that appeal to vegetarians like me.
Their oyster-mushroom-specific recipes include Mache Salad with Sauteed Oyster Mushrooms, Oyster Mushrooms and Bacon, Baked Oyster Mushrooms with Soy Sauce and Tabasco, Breaded Oyster Mushrooms with Fresh Herbs, Bavarian Pretzel-Dumpling Carpaccio with Sauteed Oyster Mushrooms, Quick Stir-Fried Tagliatelle, and English Casserole with Oyster Mushrooms and Curry Sauce. Papardelle with Assorted Wild Mushrooms recommends oyster mushrooms as part of the mix and looks simple and delicious.
I have to digress here for a moment to talk about ragout. Any fan of Jane Austen and the Regency Period has certainly heard of ragout, a popular dish of the era. But I confess I’ve never had a clue what a ragout was, except that it was served at the evening meal.
I’d also been mystified years ago when I went on a garden tour of England as the lone vegetarian on the tour. The places we stayed made every effort to be accomodating, and in every single one, I was ritually served what appeared to be a mushroom-heavy pasta sauce without the pasta. The sauce was perfectly tasty, but where was the pasta or even rice that should accompany it? Gads.
The answer to both questions emerged as I was paging through this cookbook and encountered a recipe for Mushroom Ragout. Sure enough, this was the dish I’d been served all over England, where it would normally have been served as one side dish among many at a meal. Mystery (finally) solved! And I’d still serve it over pasta or rice.
But getting back to the recipes, I think I’ll share the one for the mache salad, even though, unless you grow your own or live in a sophisticated urban area, you’re unlikely to find mache, a French wild and cultivated green also known as corn salad and lamb’s lettuce with a mild, sweet, nutty flavor. It sounds yummy, with the warm sauteed mushrooms served on the dressed greens. We don’t have mache here, so if I made this, I’d substitute arugula or watercress and see if their spicy, peppery flavor and body also complemented the sauteed mushrooms:
Mache Salad with Sauteed Oyster Mushrooms
1 1/2 cups mache
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon herb salt
freshly ground white pepper
10 1/2 ounces oyster mushrooms
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
butter for sauteeing
Rinse mache thoroughly and spin dry. Combine lemon juice, canola oil, balsamic vinegar, herb salt, and pepper to make a dressing. Clean mushrooms with a mushroom brush or paper towel, trim, and cut strips that are not too fine. Peel onion and garlic and mince. In pan, melt butter, then brown mushrooms, onion, and garlic. Seaon with salt and pepper. Carefully toss mache and dressing. Arrange on large individual plates and top with sauteed mushrooms.
Tips: In a small, ungreased pan, toast 1 handful pine nuts and sprinkle over the warm mushrooms. When browning the oyster mushrooms, add 3 tablespoons walnut oil. It intensifies the nutty flavor of the mushrooms and goes well with the garlic.
Well, there you have it! I’m planning to make mixed sauteed mushrooms and sweet onion in Marsala wine sauce on rice for OFB tonight, with mixed broccoflower, orange cauliflower, and broccoli (simply prepared with lemon juice, butter, salt and fresh-ground black pepper to offset the richness of the mushroom dish) and a big, crunchy salad. Tomorrow night I’ll probably roast mushrooms, sliced sweet potatoes, sweet onion, and asparagus, and serve them alone or over pasta, again with a big salad. Then it may be time for lasagna, layering sauteed oyster mushrooms in with the pasta sauce, ricotta mixture, and mozzarella. And if I still have any oyster mushrooms at that point, maybe it will be time for polenta or pizza or even grits with shredded Jarlsberg and sauteed oyster mushrooms. And I know OFB would relish a mushroom and cheese omelette with English muffins and marmalade…
Oh, wait. Maybe my neighbor would enjoy some fresh oyster mushrooms; think I’ll give her a call. So might the folks who invited us to that eccentric borax-themed party yesterday. And our friend Rudy might appreciate an invitation for a mushroom-centric supper. How nice to be able to share the wealth, and what a treat for all concerned!
If you have a favorite vegetarian-friendly oyster mushroom recipe, please by all means share!
‘Til next time,