For the Love of Mushrooms
Not so long ago, sitting around the dinner table, the question was posed as to what everyone would choose for their last supper in this lifetime. Not giving my dinner companions time to ponder, I blurted out my answer:
Mushrooms. Loads of mushrooms. With a side of Dungeness crab and poached eggs.
I have spent many hours thinking about this. Stuck in traffic, restless nights. This is the topic that my daydreams are made of. Being my last supper, it doesn’t need to flow to anyone else but me.
My mushroom love affair began as a kid playing in the woods. The lure of nascent fungi appearing though the autumn debris was almost irresistible. But having been firmly warned and being too wise to eat mushrooms in the woods, I instead convinced my younger sister to eat the ones that had magically appeared under the tire swing that hung from our willow tree. She ended up being fine, and I ended up in a heap of trouble. We got to know the Poison Control Center far better than the local Mycological Society.
In the Bay Area, we are fortunate to have access to many mushrooms, like porcinis and chanterelles, that are difficult at best to cultivate and instead require the skilled eye, scientific mind and local knowledge of the expert forager.
Luckily, during the peak of the fall mushroom season, only a trip to the farmers market is required. As a mycophagist (aka fungus eater), I like to prepare them simply, either balancing their earthy flavors with a little fat and acid or deepening their intensity for maximum mushroom impact by simmering in rich soups or long cooking times. Since the supply of mushrooms is dictated by Mother Nature, the prices can vary dramatically, even week to week. For this reason, I try to shop with some flexibility in which variety of mushrooms I will cook with, instead of going in with a porcini-or- bust game plan.
Most every recipe I make with mushrooms starts with a high-heat sauté in a pat of butter and splash of oil so they release their moisture and begin to caramelize. After a sprinkle of salt, anything you do with them is really just extra credit. And if they don’t make it any farther from the pan than to your fork, that’s OK, too.