Posted by: dinaguillen | July 1, 2009

My Mushroom Mania Week

After being in a cooking club for almost 10 years, I am trying to get more creative with themes, and more than anything, I’m trying to challenge myself and the other cooking club members as well.  Ingredient-themed cooking club gatherings can get really fun.  We once had an Iron Chef themed cooking club where a secret ingredient had to be incorporated into each of the recipes assigned to us a month before our get-together.  This was one of the most fun cooking clubs we have ever had.  We all had to show up at the host’s house (Nicole Baker was the genius behind this madcap adventure) with our individual recipe, and be prepared to include the secret ingredient once Nicole revealed it to us.  With a flourish, as if in the Iron Chef Kitchen Stadium, she uncovered all kinds of pears arranged on her kitchen table, from Bosc, to Anjou, to Asian, to Red Bartlett.  I was assigned a grilled dessert that night, and it was so much fun trying to figure out ways to integrate the pears into my already assigned recipe (yes, I know I had it easy compared to my fellow cooking club members who had savory dishes to prepare – but we all had a blast!). 

Ever since that cooking club gathering three years ago, I’ve been wanting to host an ingredient-themed cooking club on my own, but haven’t gotten around to it because I’m always sidetracked by another “really great idea” that has me excited.  But one day, my boss Jean comes in to work with three different kinds of exotic mushrooms.  She and her husband Kip are starting an online international gourmet food store called Global Spoon (the website is not up yet, but I’ll be sure to let you know once it is – they’ll have access to some great food finds that are really exciting), and they are in the process of researching mushroom distributors.  Jean shows me the bags of mushrooms and asks if I want to try them.  I’ve never tried cooking with any of these mushrooms before (although I had heard of two of them), and all of a sudden I feel like I’m in Kitchen Stadium trying to use a recently revealed secret ingredient (albeit there was no flourish when Jean opened the bags, which is a bummer because I like the flourish part). 

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So, I take the mushrooms home and start planning.  The first mushroom is fresh morels.  I’ve cooked with dried morels before, but never fresh, and I soon realize what I’ve been missing out on.  First of all, they’re gorgeous.  Yes, I know I’m talking about food here, but they really are a thing of beauty.  It is obvious that Jean and Kip got their hands on some really fresh morels because even the dirt on them is fresh.  And speaking of the dirt – jeesh, they have dirt in every pore, everywhere, and they are not easy to clean.  So I go online and research how to clean them, and I go with the “salt bath” method.  I filled a large bowl with water, added a tablespoon of coarse salt, and started swishing the mushrooms around.  It actually worked fine, but I had to repeat it a couple times. 

One of my favorite recipes that I like to make when friends come over for dinner is Ina Garten’s “Chicken With Morels,” from her Barefoot in Paris cookbook.   Her recipe uses dried morels, but I now have my hands on fresh ones and I substitute them.  Wow!  The fresh, earthy, meaty awesomeness of this mushroom cooked with the chicken, crème Fraiche, Madeira wine, and shallots made this exquisite dish even better. 

Knowing that morels and dairy really complement each other, I decide to try beef stroganoff the next day, and substitute fresh morels for the sliced cremini mushrooms I usually use.  Another. Amazing. Meal.  And some of my friends (who are sharing in this mushroom cooking extravaganza) are loving this dish even more than yesterday’s.  I absolutely love this mushroom and I’m totally hooked.  Unfortunately it is getting close to the end of their season and I will probably have to wait until next spring to try them fresh again.  I’m actually a little melancholy when reflecting on this.  But as someone who loves to cook, I’ve had fresh morels on my list of ingredients that I must cook with one day, and I love that I finally had the chance.

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So now I’m off to try the second mushroom that I had heard of, but never tried cooking with.  They’re called Hen of the Woods, or Maitake.  I know I called morels gorgeous, but these mushrooms are stunning!  I can feel you from here rolling your eyes, but hear me out…If you’ve never seen them before, they look like ruffled mushrooms, with layers and layers that form like petals on a flower.  Okay, I still feel the rolling of the eyes, so I’ll move on.  These mushrooms are a lot cleaner (huge relief), firm, have a woodsy scent, and tasted like portobellos to me.  I chopped them up in large pieces and made an Asian mushroom risotto, with a ginger and garlic infused chicken broth. 

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I have to admit that while the maitake itself didn’t wow me like the morels did, they really gave the risotto an amazing earthy mushroom flavor that I just loved. 

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The third mushroom is the one I’ve never heard of.  It’s called Nameko, and Jean tells me it’s the second most popular mushroom in Japan behind Shitake.  There’s a reason I put off trying this mushroom until the end.  Beside the fact that I’ve never heard of it, and don’t know what to do with it, the Nameko mushroom has a gold-colored gelatinous coating on its button cap.  That thin gel coating made me uncomfortable since I’ve always associated any kind of sliminess in mushrooms with bad mushrooms.  But Jean reassures me that they are very fresh, and they are supposed to look like that. 

So I start my research online, and I read if you cook them too long, they get…you guessed it…slimy.  I decide to start easy, with a quick stir fry of the Nameko with a little extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkled with sea salt and pepper.  I am here to tell you that these are the most delicious mushrooms, and in fact, after the morels, are my favorite.  They have a nutty, earthy flavor that was so incredibly delicious, and the gelatinous coating disintegrates while it is cooking. 

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I stir fried them the next day with some eggs, and they were equally delicious.  Then I got cocky, and stir fried them with some vegetables and chicken, and instead of letting them cook for just a minute or two, I cooked them too long.  They became slimy and gelatinous, and the texture did not appeal to me – at all.  A couple days later, Jean gave me some more of the Nameko that had just come in, but I got so addicted to these mushrooms in a quick sauté with olive oil, that I prepared them everyday for a week just like that.   I can see why they are so popular in Japan.  If you like mushrooms, you must try and find these – they are that good.

So my mushroom adventures have come to an end, and if I can keep myself from getting sidetracked, I may finally have figured out what my special themed ingredient is for my next cooking club.

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Responses

  1. Since I am forbidden to bring mushrooms home, call me next time for some taste testing!

    • I’m so sorry mushrooms are forbidden in your home – what a travesty! I will definitely call you next time, especially when I get my hands on some other wild exotic mushrooms.


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