Sunday, October 25, 2009

X-Country Double Lobster Risotto

That's right, two kinds of lobsters from two different coasts, East meets West: A Maine lobster of the surf variety and a Washington lobster of the turf variety, combined in a Reece's style mash-up for grown-up palettes. I gotta tell you, folks, this is a serious keeper, and I'm scratching my head wondering why I've never seen such a beast on a menu before because it makes so much sense.

Lobster mushrooms are named for their bright orange exterior that resembles the cooked crustacean—the colorful result of one fungus parasitizing another, with the hapless—and unpalatable—Russula brevipes being attacked and colonized by Hypomyces lactifluorum, resulting, incredibly, in a mushroom that is edible and choice.

The more I've cooked with lobsters over the last few years, the more I've begun to appreciate their versatility. They make a wonderful traditional duxelles sauce, and there's no denying they have a hint of seafood taste that works especially well in certain dishes of the sea. Plus, their texture when cooked is firm yet soft and smooth. You could almost use them in a traditional Lobster Risotto and skip the crustacean altogether. But when used together, it's like doubling your money.

2 Maine lobsters (each about 1 1/4 lbs)*
4 tbsp butter
1/2 lb lobster mushrooms, diced
1 large shallot, diced
1 celery rib, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup sherry
2 cups Arborio rice
8 cups stock*
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 tbsp chopped parsley and/or chives

* You can use chicken stock, fish stock, or make your own stock using the lobster shells, which is what we did. After cooking, remove lobster to cold water. Add to pot 1 cut up onion, 2 chopped carrots, 2 chopped celery ribs, and a bay leaf. Toss the lobster shells back into the pot as you finish cleaning them of their meat. Simmer, allowing stock to reduce, until ready to use, then strain.

1. Saute shallots, garlic, celery, and mushrooms in butter over medium-high heat. When the shallots are translucent, pour in the sherry and continue cooking until most of the alcohol has evaporated, then add the rice and stir to coat thoroughly, cooking another couple minutes.

2. Begin adding ladlefuls of warm stock in your preferred risotto style. I like this risotto creamy but not overly wet. Continue until the rice is cooked yet still al dente.

3. Meanwhile, chop up lobster meat to desired size, reserving large hunks of claw meat as garnish. When risotto is done, remove from heat and mix in Parmesan and lobster pieces. Sprinkle plated risotto with chopped herbs.

Serves 4. Pair with a medium to full-bodied white that isn't too oaky. Our local shop recommended an Argiolas Vermentino di Sardegna Costamolino 2008, which the New York Times called their favorite as well as "Best Value" in a recent roundup of Italian vermentinos.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tom Yum with Salmon & Lobster Mushrooms

We've been laid low by the lurgies. Even a morning draught of stinging nettle tea couldn't clear my head...but an evening jolt of spicy Tom Yum with Salmon & Lobster Mushrooms, made from a salmon-head stock, seems to have done the trick for now.

Studies are being done on Tom Yum's immune-boosting properties and I'm not surprised. Along wih Pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup, Thailand's signature hot and sour soup Tom Yum Goong has been our go-to dinner when la grippe has us in its bony grip. Just inhaling those aromatic and spicy fumes is enough to cleanse the sinuses. Until this week, I had never tried to make it myself.

Tom Yum can be made with water, chicken stock, or fish stock. One recipe exhorts readers to use the shrimp's head fat to enrichen the soup base—and who am I to argue with such logic? I did this by removing the heads, squeezing their fat—a noticeable orange color, as illustrated in the photo—into the stock, and then tossing the heads into the boil for a little extra umph. But more than that, I got my deep fish flavor from a couple of salmon carcasses. This year I made sure to keep the remains of every salmon I caught and filleted, which means I've got a ton of soup heads and backbones in the freezer.

The lobster mushrooms, picked during a hike near the Columbia River Gorge, added extra flavor and chew. I've always loved the paddy straw mushroom, a mainstay in Asian soups (and present in this one), but the lobster contributed its seafoody flavor and a texture that's firmer than the straw mushroom. Together, the two species of fungus added heartiness to the soup.

3-4 cups stock or water*
1 medium-sized lobster mushroom, thinly sliced
1 dozen shrimp in the shell with heads
1 stalk lemongrass, mashed and cut into 3-inch pieces
6 kaffir lime leaves, bruised and de-stemmed
6 slices galangal
6 Thai chili peppers, mashed
3 tbsp lime juice
1 heaping tbsp roasted chili paste
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 can straw mushrooms
1 handful cilantro chopped for garnish

1. Peel shrimp, reserving heads and leaving tail on.
2. Bring stock, lemongrass, shrimp heads, and lobster mushrooms to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile combine chili peppers, chili paste, and lime juice in small bowl.
4. Remove shrimp heads with slotted spoon and add kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and shrimp. Simmer a few more minutes.
5. Turn off heat just before shrimp are fully cooked and add mixture of lime juice, chili peppers, and chili paste. Season with salt, brown sugar, and fish sauce according to taste.

Serves 2 ballooned-out congested heads.

*For salmon-head stock, brown in peanut oil in a heavy soup pot a couple small to medium-sized salmon heads (along with backbones if you have them). De-glaze with a splash or two of wine (Chinese cooking wine is preferable). Add 1 chopped leek and 2 chopped cloves of garlic. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for several more minutes. Add 8 cups of water and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain. The salmon meat can then be picked from the pot.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Freezer Burn, or: A Few Good Apps

If you want to get serious about foraged foods, a big ol' freezer is pretty much indispensable. Mine is packed with crabs, clams, nettles, mushrooms, berries, smoked salmon, shad, assorted heads, various stocks, and so on. Such a freezer full of foraged foods comes in handy for a party. Never mind that Marty tried her best to sabotage the whole affair by leaving the freezer door open for 18 hours a few days before. Most of the packages were still frozen, if sweating on the outside, and the clearly defrosted stuff got whipped into shape for the party, including stinging nettle pesto, Columbia river shad, and porcini mushrooms.

Look, Mom, no bones!

The shad in particular was a thing of genius. Several of the vacuum-sealed packages were flimsy, the once frozen shad now thawed and bendy. There was no way those things were going back into the deep freeze. As anyone who's ever processed these largest members of the herring family knows, shad are bony critters fit for deboning by the same jailbirds who punch out New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" license plates.

Normally I have most of my Columbia River shad catch smoked and canned at Tony's, but I always keep a few fillets on hand to smoke myself or bake in the Low-Country style. This time I wanted a croquette I could serve at the party with a spicy New Orleans remoulade. I baked the shad for 30 minutes, spent 15 minutes picking as many bones as I could, and then buzzed the pile o' fish in the Cuisinart. To this pulverized mass of shad I added sauteed onions and red pepper, Worstcester sauce, lemon juice, an egg, some flour, cayenne pepper, and a bunch of fresh herbs from the garden, including tarragon, basil, chives, and parsley. I added more of the herbs than you might think; the more the better, in fact. Shad is a rich, strong-tasting fish, and the fresh herbs help to brighten the flavor and temper it at the same time. Hank Shaw has posted a similar recipe here, minus the sauteed veggies and lemon.

Once made, you can refrigerate the shad for a few days until party time. It has a consistency similar to well-mixed tuna fish salad. Or you can plow ahead and make the croquettes ahead of time and then freeze. I took the latter path, forming little hockey pucks of about the same diameter as a fifty-cent piece. These I dredged generously in panko and placed on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Into the freezer they went for a couple hours until solid enough to be removed to zip-lock bags. An hour before the party I arranged them once again on a cookie sheet to defrost and fried in oil minutes before the guests arrived. The fried shad croquettes were then topped with the red remoulade (although an aioli would be good too).

Porcini Crostini

I took this one from John Sundstrom, the chef/owner of Lark restaurant in Seattle. The prep is really quite simple: chopped porcini mushrooms roasted in olive oil with fresh thyme and rosemary. It's a little depressing to see all that beautiful fresh porcini lose half its volume by the time it comes out of the oven, but that's the nature of this fungal beast. Thinly sliced baguette is lightly toasted, rubbed with garlic, covered with a blanket of good ricotta, and topped with the porcini (and a generous sprinkling of salt).

Slow-roasted Tomatoes with Nettle Pesto Garnish

The last canape escaped the intrusions of paparazzi. Tomatoes were cored, chopped, and placed in a glass dish with olive oil to slowly roast overnight in a 225-degree oven. These got spooned on squares of baked polenta and dabbed with stinging nettle pesto.

Next time Marty better conspire to leave the freezer door open a little longer, 'cause we gotta clean out that sucker once and for all this winter.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chanties Chanties Everywhere

The chanterelle. Despite its romantic twirl off the tongue, you'd think it was practically domesticated—an off-the-shelf French floozy Halloween costume. Is there an A-list wild mushroom that gets less respect, after all, than the chanty? Like an over-exposed model, it has the faint whiff of "been there done that." Well, I for one wouldn't kick a golden chanterelle out of bed for eating Cheez-Its!

Their fruity nose of apricots is unique in the fungal kingdom, and that fruitiness carries over into taste. Though earthy like other wild mushrooms, the chanterelle's flavor is reminiscent of orchards and vineyards and other more civilized habitats. In my neck of the woods they're without a doubt the most common of the wild mushrooms, gracing even the shelves of the local Safeway.

But don't be fooled. Though common, chanterelles are not always an easy find, and their singular flavor and aroma can transform many a dish from pedestrian to sublime, in particular any dish with bacon in it. Something about the union of fruity chanterelle with the essence of pig is a marriage made in culinary heaven.

How do you find chanterelles, you ask? I can't speak for other parts of the country, but in the Pacific Northwest young stands of Douglas fir are your best bet. This means a trip to logging country, where you'll pass miles of unsightly clearcuts before finding that perfect stand of 10 to 40-year-old tree farm Doug-firs where chanties thrive. This is not my favorite sort of mushroom hunting. The forest is dense, damp, and dark—and usually a boring monoculture. But if you can manage to find a patch of woods that hasn't been visited by a commercial forager you'll find the green moss carpeted with golden fungal goblets. These are the classic Pacific golden chanterelles, Cantharellus formosus. There are other varieties.

A strikingly hued species associated with spruce—Sitka on the coast and Engelmann in the inland West—goes by the name Cantharellus cibarius var. roseocanus. I find these chanterelles, known to commercial pickers as "peach chants" or "fluorescent chants," in the high huckleberry meadows of the Cascades, where they hug the ground in a most unchanterelle-like demureness, their dullish yellow caps with a surprisingly flat topography peeking out of the duff. But slice one off at the ankles and turn it over and you'll see the most blazing hue of neon orange underneath the cap.

And let's not forget the humble white chanterelle (Cantharellus subalbidus), which is often less expensive at the market than its golden cousin yet is my favorite for its meatiness and strong flavor. White chanties hide beneath the duff, often requiring an eagle eye and careful excavation. The result is a chanterelle that is dirtier than its golden counterparts but worth the effort to root out and clean up.

Fig & Chanterelle Crostini

For this post I tried to stay away from heavy cream, an effort of Dr. Strangelove proportions. The photo at top is my favorite new canape, a simple dollop of chopped chanterelles sauteed with shallots and fresh sage in butter topped with a thin slice of fig and a sprinkle of parsley. Admittedly, I wasn't too keen on the fig when a few of us first concocted this simple crostini; I thought the addition of fresh fig would take the fruitiness factor too far, but in fact it merely drives home the fact that chanterelles are a woodsy treat.

The photo at bottom shows a chanterelle succotash of sorts: Balsamic Glazed Pork Loin over Chanterelles, Corn & Apple. I'd say this is still a work in progress. I sauteed the chanties in bacon fat (with the diced bacon left in) along with chopped shallots, then added corn scraped off the cob, a diced Granny Smith apple, and a handful of baby arugula. The sweet and tart flavors still need some balancing, so I won't bother with the full recipe.

The other dinner shot is a recipe taken from Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Scallops with Chanterelles, Sherry, and Parsley Breadcrumbs. This was a meal that encouraged third helpings and I can't recommend Goin's book enough.

Chanties offer endless possibilities for brightening a meal with fall color and the tastes and smells of the harvest season. To borrow from Bull Durham, when you speak of the chanterelle, speak well.