Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Creamy Polenta with Wild Mushrooms

THE BLACK TRUMPET (Craterellus sp.) is one my favorite wild mushrooms for the table. Like its cousins in the chanterelle family, it's earthy with a touch of fruity sweetness. On the West Coast, most pickers look for them in the coastal hills of northern California and southern Oregon, where they hide among the leaf litter of forests dominated by Douglas fir, tanoak, and madrone (with a smattering of decayed redwood for good measure). But they can be found elsewhere...

One of the great pleasures of mushroom hunting is sleuthing out the many clues that lead to a full basket. The black trumpet is one of those varieties that requires putting on your detective cap and paying serious attention to the landscape. Cracking the case results in a righteous dinner.

Creamy Polenta with Wild Mushrooms

This recipe is adapted from a New York Times recipe by Sam Sifton, who rightly points out that soy sauce and butter make a heavenly combination, particularly in service to fungi, because of the massive umami factor. 

Many home cooks view polenta with trepidation. It doesn't follow directions! Don't be afraid. Polenta is easy and forgiving, even if temperamental—and a perfect vehicle for wild mushrooms. Yes, it rarely cooks the same way twice, varying by brand, weather, elevation, and seemingly by whim. Just add more liquid if necessary and adjust seasoning, cheese, and butter to taste.

This makes a side dish for two. I used a mixture of golden chanterelles and black trumpets.

For polenta:

1 cup water (plus more as it cooks)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup polenta
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)

For mushrooms:

1/4 lb (or more) wild mushrooms, roughly cut into pieces
2 tbsp butter, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp porcini powder*, rehydrated with 1/2 cup hot water
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

* You can pulverize a store-bought package of dried porcini into powder with a spice grinder. I make jars of the stuff from my #3 mature king boletes to use with rubs and in sauces, stews, and soups. No porcini? Substitute with chicken or vegetable stock.

1. Over medium-high heat, bring water and milk to simmer in a medium-sized sauce pan or pot. Slowly add polenta while whisking to prevent clumping. Season with salt and continue to whisk for a minute or two. Turn heat to low and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more water as necessary to maintain creaminess.

2. Meanwhile, in a small pan sauté garlic and mushrooms in a tablespoon of butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook mushrooms until they release their water and then cook off liquid, allowing mushrooms to brown slightly; this might take several minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add 1/2 cup porcini stock to mushrooms. Reduce by half and turn heat to low. Add a splash each of soy sauce and cream and a drizzle of olive oil. Stir together and allow to thicken. Keep warm in pan over low heat while waiting for polenta to cook. If sauce becomes too thick, add another splash of water, cream, or stock. Just before plating, melt one more tablespoon of butter into mushroom sauce and stir.

4. When polenta is thoroughly cooked and creamy, add butter and cheese (and more liquid if necessary). Adjust seasoning. Serve in a bowl and spoon mushrooms and sauce on top.

Serves 2 as a side dish.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

October Slide Presentations

Hey Washingtonians, I’ll be giving several slide presentations across the state this October about wild foods, foraging, and my books. Come by and say hello!
Lastly, on October 20 I’m hosting a Fall Foraged Dinner at Lark restaurant for the Field Trip Society. This will be a feast to remember with the season’s bounty.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Stir-fried Oyster Mushrooms with Chicken

West Coast woods from NorCal to BC are loaded with oyster mushrooms right now—and it's nice to see the excitement they're stirring in foraging communities. Lately I've been seeing photos of oysters all over online message boards and myco groups. Morels have traditionally commanded most of the vernal ink among mycophagists, but for a majority of us west of the Cascades the oyster is really the local fungus of springtime.

I start looking for oysters (Pleurotus sp.) in lowland forests as soon as the temperature begins to warm and a few days after the first good rains. Some years I find them as early as late February though April is more typical. They'll keep fruiting throughout the spring and sometimes well into summer if regular rain continues, and then again in the fall.

The saprophytic oyster mushrooms in the Northwest will usually be found in association with dead red alder or cottonwood. They look like clam shells growing off the sides of standing snags or fallen trees. Fresh specimens are creamy white, with hues of pink or tan. They have gills and stems that are off-center.

While you can buy farmed oysters at the market, I find the wild variety to be more flavorful, and I use them in all kinds of dishes from around the world, east and west. My go-to recipe of recent years has been a quick, delicate Chinese stir-fry that will appeal to those who prefer a less spicy Cantonese style, which allows the oysters to really shine. If you're vegetarian, skip the chicken or swap in tofu.

3 tbsp peanut oil
3/4 lb oyster mushrooms, cut into half-dollar pieces
3/4 lb chicken breast, thinly sliced into a similar size as mushrooms
4 green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 large thumb-sized piece of ginger, thinly sliced
salt and white pepper, to taste

1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp Shaoxing wine
1 tsp potato starch

3 tbsp chicken stock
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp potato starch

1. Combine sliced chicken in a bowl with marinade ingredients, stir, and set aside. Whisk together sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

2. In a wok over medium heat, sauté oyster mushrooms in 1 tbsp oil, stirring occasionally. Remove to a bowl when slightly browned.

3. Heat 2 tbsp oil in wok over high heat and add marinated chicken. When the chicken is partly cooked but still pinkish, add garlic, ginger, and green onion. Cook together, stirring, for 30 seconds until aromatic before returning oyster mushrooms to wok. Continue to cook together another minute or so until chicken is barely cooked through.

4. Pour in sauce, stir to coat, and reduce heat. Season to taste and serve immediately with rice.

Serves 2

Monday, February 4, 2019

Huckleberry Snow Cone

What do you do when it snows in Seattle? Make a Huckleberry Snow Cone!

While I was out skiing around the neighborhood this morning, my daughter Ruby was busy cooking down a cup of frozen huckleberries with water and sugar, then blending it in the Vitamix. After a quick straining she had a deep red, sweet and syrupy liquid to pour over packed snowballs—a perfect treat for a no-school Snow Day.