Thursday, April 26, 2007

Make Room for Shrooms

"Plenty of varieties available to add flavour to any dish


There is one ingredient -- once considered gourmet, but now part of our everyday cooking -- that never fails to add great flavour to a dish.

The mushroom.

In Canada there is a thriving mushroom-growing industry, with white mushrooms the leader in production. They come in three sizes, the prized "button," regular medium, and jumbo, ideal for stuffing. A second version of this mushroom is brown, known as a crimini. Firmer than its white counterpart, the crimini has a slightly more intense meaty flavour. Both mushrooms can be eaten raw and cooked, and are as delicious in a salad as they are in a stir-fry or ragout.

For a long time, these were the only kind of mushrooms we saw in the market. But, then, kaboom! The neat little white and brown mushrooms were joined by a coterie of different looking -- and some would say more interesting -- mushrooms. The portobello surprised us all with its size -- it's the largest of all domestic mushrooms, and in fact is just a well developed brown or crimini mushroom. Because portobellos are larger and older, they have lost some of their moisture, deepening their earthiness and meaty flavour. Portobellos are the ultimate stuffed mushrooms, beloved at barbecue parties where they offer a much appreciated and stylish vegetarian alternative to grilled meat and poultry. Many cooks like to scrape out the gills, the pleated darker underbelly of the fungus, before brushing with olive or canola oil, seasoning with salt and pepper, and arranging over the coals.

Then, getting more exotic, came two more mushrooms. The oyster, all pearly grey and velvety and shaped like their name. It's great on the grill, just lightly brushed with olive oil and dressed with a little garlic, salt and pepper.

Shiitake mushrooms, familiar in their dried form by anyone who cooks Chinese food, are the most expensive of the newest mushrooms, and generally only the cap is used as the stem is too tough. However, this is the mushroom to use when mushrooms have a starring role in a dish, rather than playing backup. In many Asian dishes, and frequently in salads, we see the white skinny and very leggy enoki -- so charming to float over consomme or toss in a salad.

All of these mushrooms were originally wild and their cultivation has broadened our choices for delicious meals.

This is a spring stew that is delicious over rice or noodles, or for a dramatic presentation, in split pop-overs.

2 tbsp. (30 mL) canola oil (approximate)
3 lb. (1.35 kilos) boneless stewing veal, trimmed
2 tbsp. (30 mL) butter
3 medium onions, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
4 cups (1 L) sliced white mushrooms or shiitake caps
2 cups (500 mL) sodium- reduced chicken stock or broth
1/4 cup (50 mL) each chopped fresh dill and flat leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. (5 mL) chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. (2 mL) crumbled dried
1 tsp. (5 mL) salt
1/4 tsp. (1 mL) freshly ground pepper
4 tsp. (20 mL) each flour and soft butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) whipping cream
Fresh dill sprigs

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, heat half of oil over medium-high heat. Brown veal, in three batches, adding more oil as needed. Transfer browned pieces to a large plate as you work. Drain off any fat.
Melt 2 tbsp. (30 mL) butter in same pan. Add onions, garlic, carrots and saute for 5 minutes. Stir in mushrooms; saute until liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes.
Return veal and any accumulated liquid to pan. Stir in stock and use it to scrape up any brown bits from bottom. Stir in dill, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer partially covered until veal is tender, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, blend together flour and soft butter; stir it into liquid around veal, stirring until liquid thickens evenly.
(Make ahead: Let cool for 30 minutes in shallow container. Refrigerate uncovered until cold; cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Reheat to continue.)
Stir in cream; heat through and season to taste if desired. Garnish with fresh dill sprigs.
Serves 8.

This recipe combines fresh white or crimini mushrooms with dried porcini or morels. This classic recipe is an easy-to-make starter.

1 (14 g) pkg. dried porcini or morel mushrooms
2 tbsp. (30 mL) canola oil
3 cups (750 mL) sliced white button mushrooms or shiitake caps
6 green onions, green and white parts separated and both thinly sliced
6 cups (1.5 L) sodium- reduced chicken stock or broth
Dash Worcestershire sauce
Pinch freshly ground pepper

Rinse dried mushroom; place in a large liquid measuring cup. Cover with 1 cup (250 mL) boiling water; cover and let mushrooms hydrate until soft and plump, about 20 minutes. Reserving liquid, drain through coffee filter or cheesecloth-lined sieve. Slice mushrooms thin and set both mushrooms and liquid aside.
In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add button mushrooms and white part of onions. Fry until mushrooms tender and liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
Add stock, mushroom soaking liquid and rehydrated porcini mushrooms. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce and pepper. (Make ahead: Let cool for 30 minutes. Refrigerate uncovered until cold; cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Reheat to continue.) Ladle into warmed soup bowls; sprinkle with green part of green onions.
Serves 6 to 8.

Even though watercress is available all year round in Toronto, it is still a harbinger of spring.

1/3 cup (75 mL) canola oil
1 tbsp. (15 mL) lemon juice
1 tsp. (5 mL) Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. (1 mL) each salt and freshly ground pepper
11/2 cups (375 mL) thinly sliced white or cremini mushrooms
1 tbsp. (15 mL) minced fresh parsley
1 tbsp. (15 mL) snipped chives
4 cups (1 L) loosely packed watercress, no coarse stems (about 1 to 12 bunches)

In a salad bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Add mushrooms, parsley and chives. Toss to coat mushrooms evenly. (Make ahead, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 hours.) Add watercress; toss lightly and serve right away.
Serves 6.

Note: A few enoki mushrooms added as garnish would not be amiss in this salad.

The paper bag is key to letting the mushrooms breathe and preventing them from turning into crisper slime. Like all fresh produce, buy what you plan to eat within a few days. The mushrooms may surprise you by lasting longer, but to be fair to them -- and to appreciate them at their best -- buy and enjoy."


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