Ode to Fungus
The mushroom is consistently chosen by chefs and craved by vegetable fans for its bold flavor and unctuous, meat like character. Whereas domesticated mushrooms fall far short of fungal bliss, wild mushrooms offer an extraordinary variety of tantalizing flavor profiles. Each variety carries with it unique traits that distinguish them from one another. The incredible colors, shapes, textures, and flavors of wild mushrooms give chefs limitless opportunities to exercise creativity with their usage.
Chantrelles- or girolles in French- are beautifully bright and golden in color and succulent and yet pleasingly subtle in flavor. They must be cleaned thoroughly, first gently peeling the stem to reveal an ivory and sleek appearance, wildly contrasting with its naturally golden crown. A small brush is delicately swept along the inner gills and on the top of the cap of the mushroom, removing any possible fragments of dirt. Finally, the mushrooms are very briefly dipped in cold water, ensuring the absolution of any sediment that would be displeasing to the palate. The chantrelles should be dried very thoroughly in order to be roasted without becoming soggy. In this case, the chantrelles are pan roasted in a cast iron pan on extremely high heat with a minimal amount of oil. Once they achieve a significant level of caramelization, while still maintaining their bright golden ensemble, a touch off butter browns instantly upon hitting the pan to be basted on the mushrooms, enhancing their flavor. Seasoned just with sea salt, the chantrelles are simply remarkable.
The porcini mushroom- when seasonally appropriate- offers an incredible richness and depth of flavor to the dish. The stems are used in a puree to maintain a level of richness throughout the dish. The tops, luxuriously decadent and aromatic, are simply sautéed in olive oil, and then infused with a touch of garlic and shallot.
Morel mushrooms have an intriguing porous structure and such a deep earthy flavor that any mushroom dish would be incomplete with the absence of this wonderful delicacy. The morels must be cleaned with great vigilance as the porous structure is quite inviting to dirt. They must be submerged in salted water and aggravated repeatedly until the water is completely clear. Once dried, the morels are quickly sautéed in olive oil and finished with butter. In this dish, mushroom stock- made with simple button mushrooms and wild mushroom scraps- is reduced, combined with truffle juice and reduced once more, until it is finally finished with butter and sherry vinegar. Part of this mixture- minus the sherry and butter- will be thickened with cream and set lightly with gelatin. Before cooling the base will be squeezed into the center of the morels and cooled to set inside the mushroom. Once warmed for plating, the morel will hold within its walls the decadent mushroom cream which will add great depth to the eating experience.
Serving as the centerpiece for this plate, the familiar portabella mushroom is treated with great respect. The top is peeled, revealing its bright white surface, gills are removed to avoid unpleasant textural issues, and the mushroom is slowly cooked in olive oil, along with garlic, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary. The result is a silky rich and deeply flavorful mushroom, to be sliced like a steak and placed in the center of the plate.
Enoki mushrooms are quite frankly the most texturally pleasing, and yet mildly flavored mushrooms on the planet. Their long braid like structure becomes utterly pleasing to the mouth once sautéed until crispy.
Matsutake mushrooms- also sensitive to season- are a rare delicacy, cherished by die heart fans of fungus. Peeled to reveal their beautiful bright interior, and shaved thinly over the plate, matsutakes are best eaten raw and bring about an amazing earthiness that will elevate the dish to another level.
The maitake or “hen of the woods” mushroom has a beautiful and intricate structure, like a bouquet of flowers or a sea anemone. Their flavor is wonderfully earthy and aromatic, and though they can be enjoyed raw, will transform into an incredible treat once caramelized until golden brown and slightly crispy.
When one takes sushi rice, cooks it until all of the starch is released, dries it overnight, and then fries it in hot oil it becomes a pleasingly light and wonderfully crispy rice chip. Rather than serve the mushrooms over rice, this showcase of mushrooms will be the base for the rice chip garnish. Here, mushroom stock is the cooking liquid for the rice, and the fried chip is seasoned with porcini powder. Fresh chives are sliced wonderfully thin and lightly sprinkled over the finished dish.