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Monday, May 10, 2021

Ode to Fungus

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 short of fungal bliss, wild mushrooms offer a wide 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.  


Chanterelles—or girolles in French—are beautifully bright and golden in color and succulent yet pleasingly subtle in flavor. They must be cleaned thoroughly by first gently peeling the stem to reveal an ivory and sleek appearance, wildly contrasting with its naturally golden crown. Use a small brush to delicately sweep along the inner gills and on the top of the cap of the mushroom, removing any possible fragments of dirt. Finally, dip the mushrooms very briefly in cold water, ensuring the absolution of any sediment that would be displeasing to the palate. Dry the chanterelles very thoroughly in order to facilitate roasting without becoming soggy. Pan roast the chanterelles 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 color, add a touch of butter to baste the mushrooms, enhancing their flavor. The chanterelles are simply remarkable when finished with sea salt.


The porcini mushroom—when seasonally appropriate—offers an incredible richness and depth of flavor to the dish. Separate the stems and roast with salt and olive oil to create 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 no mushroom dish would be complete without this wonderful delicacy. The morels must be cleaned with great vigilance as the porous structure is quite inviting to dirt. Submerge them in salted water and aggravate repeatedly until the water is completely clear. Once dried, quickly sauté the morels in olive oil and finish with butter. Combine any mushroom scraps with five pounds of button mushrooms in a large stockpot and cover with water. Simmer the liquid for 30 minutes and strain to extract a mushroom stock. Reduce the stock to one quart, combine with one cup of truffle juice and reduce to eight ounces. Take four ounces of this mixture, add one cup of heavy cream, and thicken with gelatin. Before cooling squeeze the creamy base into the center of the morels and cool 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. Heat the remaining four ounces of the truffle and mushroom reduction to a simmer and finish with one ounce of sherry vinegar and three ounces of butter to create a well-balanced sauce to accent the dish.


Serving as the centerpiece for this plate, the familiar portabella mushroom is treated with great respect. Peel the top, revealing its bright white surface, and remove the gills to avoid unpleasant textural issues. Cook the mushroom on low heat in enough olive oil to cover, 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 the most texturally pleasing, and yet mildly flavored mushrooms on the planet. Their long braid-like structure becomes pleasing to the mouth once sautéed until crispy. Matsutake mushrooms—also sensitive to season—are a rare delicacy, cherished by diehard fans of fungus. Use a paring knife to peel the rough outer layer to reveal their beautiful bright interior, and shave thinly over the plate. 

Matsutakes are best eaten raw and bring 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 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. Slice fresh chives paper thin and lightly sprinkle over the finished dish. 

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