Mushrooms

Golden Oyster Mushrooms

Across most of Northern Europe home cooks will take regular walks in the fields and woods in search of wild mushrooms for dinner but here in Britain we tend to be afraid of eating poisonous fungi and don’t bother. I don’t really know why this should be – perhaps our childhood literary diet was to blame – from Alice in Wonderland to tales of witchcraft and sorcery we were taught that mushrooms are not to be messed with.

I’m not the greatest forager myself so this is not a lesson on how to safely pick mushrooms (although there is nothing quite like frying up a pan of field mushrooms after an autumn walk) but maybe we should all at least try eating a wider variety of cultivated mushrooms.

The supermarkets are full of ceps / porcini mushrooms (yes they are the same thing), oyster mushrooms, shitake and even enoki but most of these will have been imported so check the label. It might be better to check local veg shops, farm shops and farmers markets for foraged mushrooms and for the increasing number of exotic varieties cultivated here in the UK.

I was lucky enough to visit Marlborough Mushrooms a while back where they grow oyster and shitake mushrooms commercially for sale to local restaurants and at the local farmer’s market. This is the simplest of set ups, housed in two insulated, temperature controlled containers (one for incubating and one for growing) with a packing area in between them.

In the wild shitake mushrooms grow on the dead wood of a tree which is closely related to the Oak. At Marlborough Mushrooms they grow them on blocks of compressed oak chippings. The chippings are placed in a bag and inoculated with the mycelium, then the bag is kept in a controlled environment for a number of weeks to incubate until the wood chippings become bonded into a solid block which turns chestnut brown indicating that they are ready to fruit. At this point the blocks are removed from the bag and transferred to the growing room and this is where the magic happens. Oyster mushrooms are grown in a similar fashion alongside the shitakes and a trip into the dark container, heady with the earthy smell of healthy fungi becomes an altogether different experience when the light goes on and you are confronted with serried ranks of golden and grey and brown mushrooms all ready and waiting to be harvested.

Mushrooms at various stages of incubation at Marlborough Mushrooms

After harvesting, the blocks are rested and then used all over again for a second crop. Once the blocks have finished producing commercially viable amounts of mushrooms they can still be re-used by the home grower to produce enough mushrooms to delight your family. Once they are completely exhausted they can be dried and used as fuel for the wood burner so all in all this is a truly sustainable, low impact business.

Having visited the farm I was lucky enough to come away with a bag full of wonderful shitake and oyster mushrooms as well as some of Marlborough Mushroom’s added value products including dried mushrooms, mixed mushroom antipasti and a pot of wonderful mushroom and walnut pesto. I couldn’t wait to get home and start cooking.

One of the reasons vegetarians love mushrooms is that they can provide a wonderfully meaty flavour and texture so that a meat free meal becomes more satisfying but they also work really well with meat – think dark rich winter casseroles full of beef and mushrooms or a classic stroganoff. But mushrooms can also be light and delicate and they feature heavily in Japanese cuisine which is noted for its subtlety.

When I got home I made a batch of homemade egg pasta and we ate tagliatelle with mushroom and walnut pesto, some mushrooms, gently sautéed in olive oil with a little garlic and topped with some grated parmesan. Apart from the pesto this is too simple to warrant a recipe of its own and as the pesto recipe remains a secret I guess you’ll just have to experiment unless you live near Marlborough.

Next morning we sautéed some more of the mushrooms in a little butter and garlic (we do like garlic) and piled it onto hot buttered toast with a few torn leaves of parsley scattered over the top to make a simple, tasty brunch and to set me up for the more delicate task of making a Japanese steamed custard (to which I also added some shitake and enoki mushrooms).

At this point Martin, in an effort to be amusing, noted that so far we had eaten brunch, a starter and a main course but he was still waiting for his mushroom dessert! Never one to resist a challenge I started thinking.

On pay day my dad always called in at the sweet shop on his way home from work. He always bought exactly the same thing – a bar of Fry’s Peppermint Cream for himself, a bar of Old Jamaica rum and raisin chocolate for my mum and a bag of coconut mushrooms for me and my younger brother. I was still wondering what dessert to make when I spotted a bag of these coconut mushrooms at the checkout in a greengrocer’s of all places. I bought a bag for nostalgia’s sake and on the way home concocted a way of making sweet coconut mushrooms with real mushrooms.

This recipe really did call for button mushrooms. I poached the mushrooms in a sugar syrup then coated them in a toffee sauce before rolling them in dessicated coconut. They tasted better than they had any right to but I don’t really count them amongst my greatest culinary successes. Still a challenge was made and a challenge was met.

Whether you forage for mushrooms, cultivate them yourself or buy them in a shop spend a little time getting to know the range of flavours available and have fun experimenting. I know I did!

If you would like to grow mushrooms commercially yourself contact Dewi at Marlborough Mushroomsdewi@marlboroughmushrooms.com

Japanese Steamed Mushroom Custard Recipe

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Steamed Mushroom Custards

This recipe for a steamed mushroom custard comes originally from Jane Lawson’s book – Yoshoku Contemporary Japanese.  Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients and lengthy method, it is essentially quite simple and the light delicate texture makes it a truly elegany dinner party first course.

This is one of those occasions when you are unlikely to get all the ingredients locally unless you live near an Asian deli but take a look on-line, there are some excellent Japanese food distributors about although I should warn you to make sure you know what you have ordered as the labels don’t always come with an English translation.  Multiple bottles of clear liquid could be sake or mirin or rice wine vinegar.  My favourite site for Japanese ingredients is Japan Centre as I have always had good service from them but there are others.

Ingredients

20g / 3/4 oz Butter

1 tsp Sesame Oil

1 leek – very thinly sliced

150g / 5oz Shitake Mushrooms – caps only, thinly sliced

100g / 3 1/2 oz Enoki Mushrooms – trimmed and halve lengthways

1/2 teaspoon dashi granules (if you can’t get dashi try bouillon powder)

4 Eggs plus 3 Egg Yolks

185 ml / 6 fluid oz double cream

1 1/2 tablespoons Mirin (a sweet rice wine)

2 tablespoons Japanese Soy Sauce (or other soy sauce although the flavour is different)

Ground White Pepper

Japanese Mayonnaise to garnish (again you can substitute ordinary mayonnaise but the flavour is different)

Chives to garnish

Soy Caramel

1 tablespoon Mirin

1 1/2 tablespoons Caster Sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons Japanese Soy Sauce

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 140 C / 275 F / Gas Mark 1

Put the butter and sesame oil into a frying pan over amedium heat.  Add the leeks and cook until soft but not coloured.  Add the shitake mushrooms and a pinch of saly and cook until softened (approximately 8 minutes).  Add the enoki and cook for a further minute.  Sprinkle in the dashi granules and mix until dissolved.  Leave to cool.

Put the eggs, egg yolks, cream, mirin and soy sauce into a bowl and whisk until combined.  Season with salt and white pepper and strain into a jug.

Place a roasting tin, half filled with water on the bottom shelf of the oven.

Divide the mushrooms and leeks between 24 small ramekins (or use a non-stick muffin tin).  Carefully pour over the custard mixture.  Tap each bowl (or the tray) gently on the surface to ensure any bubbles rise to the top.  To be really thorough you should leave the custard mix to settle for ten minutes and then use a cocktail stick to burst any bubles that have appeared on the surface.

Carefully place the ramekins in the roasting tin or, if you are using a muffin tray, place on an oven shelf immediately above the roasting tin and cook for 13-15 minutes until just set.  They should still have a slight wobble.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly before turning them out of the tin (they can be served in the ramekins if you prefer.

In the meantime make the soy caramel.  Put the mirin, the sugar and one tablespoon water into a small saucepan.  Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved then increase the heat and cook until syrupy.  Add the soy sauce and heat until syrupy again.  Cool to room temperature.

Serve the custards at room temperature served with a little mayonnaise, the chives and a drizzle of soy caramel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beef Stroganoff with Cucumber Pickle

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the beef Stroganoff

4 Steaks (Fillet)

2 oz / 50 g butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 Onions, finely sliced

2 tsp Paprika

150 g (5.3oz) mixed mushrooms (button, portabella, shitake), sliced

2 tbsp Brandy

5 fl oz / 150 ml fresh beef stock

5 fl oz / 150 ml Sour cream

1 handful Fresh Parsley, chopped

For the cucumber pickle

1 Cucumber

1 Shallot

2 tsp Caster sugar

2 tbsp White wine vinegar

Method

First make the cucumber pickle. Put the vinegar, finely chopped shallot, sugar and a pinch of salt into a large bowl. Trim the ends of the cucumber then use a potato peeler (or a mandolin) to cut long, thin ribbons of cucumber (discard the first slice which will be mostly peel) and then toss the cucumber in the vinegar mix and set aside whilst you cook the rest of the meal.

Sweat the onion in a knob of butter over a low heat. When the onion is soft add the paprika and cook gently for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Gently fry the mushrooms in a large knob of the butter until they are cooked, all the moisture has evaporated off and they are beginning to turn golden. Remove from the pan and add to the onions.

Heat a heavy based frying pan on the hob.

Cook the steaks the way you like to eat them. You will find a useful guide here

While the steaks are resting return the mushroom and onion mix to the pan. Pour in the stock and brandy and cook over a high heat until it is reduced to almost nothing. Remove from the heat and stir in the soured cream. Heat gently until warmed through but don’t over heat or it will split.

Divide the onion / mushroom mixture between warmed plates. Slice the steaks and place on top of the sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with the cucumber pickle and sautéed potatoes.