Mushroom into Something Delicious


I like earthy flavors. Guess that’s why I’m crazy about mushrooms. As a kid, I used to approach them with a bit of apprehension. After all, some mushroom varieties can be pretty scary looking. Almost alien. But as I matured and my tastes turned toward more sophisticated fare, I began to appreciate the complexity of flavors they lend to so many recipes. Now I look to include mushrooms on my plate whenever I can, both at home and while dining out.

I’d say the overwhelming majority of home cooks in America are familiar with white mushrooms. We find them in abundance at the supermarket, both fresh and canned. They’re good. Nothing wrong with them. But there are so many different varieties of mushrooms from which to choose, each with its particular taste profile. The portobello comes to mind. These are the large, 4” – 6” in diameter brown beauties that are really popular when grilling. They’re quite meaty, with a substantially robust flavor that makes them a formidable substitute for beef in many dishes. Every try a portobello burger? Quite good. By the way, cremini mushrooms are actually baby portobellos. Less intense in flavor, with not quite as much of a bite, they still hold their own and pair nicely with beef and lamb.

Another favorite of mine are shiitake mushrooms. Originally from Japan, you’ll easily find them in your local market. Their rich, woodsy flavor is fantastic in any number of dishes. I particularly like them in Asian soups. Chanterelles are also pretty awesome. Sporting a showy orange color and funnel shape, they make quite a presentation. And talk about complexity of flavor. Their fruity aroma and mildly peppery taste add depth to any dish they encounter. Really wonderful stewed, I think.

Of course, there are more. Chanterelles , so named for their color and shape, are firm and meaty. They complement hearty flavors, like game meats and poultry. Enokis are those pretty, delicate mushrooms that look like spaghetti with a tiny cap on the end. They’re very mild in flavor, and are just gorgeous in stir-fries. As for morels, you’ll probably only find them dried. No worries. Just hydrate them with a bit of warm water and you’ll discover that their smoky note adds an intensity to stews and pastas that’s nothing less than remarkable.

Now, when you purchase your fresh mushrooms most aficionados will tell you never to rinse them since they are notorious for sponging up liquid. It is recommended that you gently brush the soil away. To be honest, I give them a quick rinse and pat them dry with a paper towel immediately. The decision is yours. Once your mushrooms are cleaned, though, you have any number of options for their use. A simple sauté in butter always works marvelously. Add some sherry and a touch of cream for something more intricate. Or go with olive oil, garlic and Italian parsley. That was a standard in my Mom’s home. I actually like to sauté mushrooms in olive oil with onions and oregano. When done, I introduce breadcrumbs and grated Pecorino Romano cheese, fold in gently, and then bake in a greased casserole dish for 20 minutes. You’ll like this one.

You know the drill. When you love something, you’ll find a place for it in almost everything you cook. Any meat or poultry smothered in sautéed mushrooms can’t be beat. Mushroom soup, whether creamed or Polish style, always makes for a welcoming meal. Stuff mushrooms with seasoned breadcrumbs, creamed spinach or crabmeat for a super appetizer or side dish. Toss them, raw or sautéed, in your salads and you have something special. And almost any soup or stew can use a handful of mushrooms for an added level of taste and texture. As for stir-fries, well, what would they be without the mushroom?

You can call this Mushroom 101, I suppose. Just meant to inspire you to head for your market and explore. Mix and match your mushrooms. Don’t be overly cautious. They all work great together, as well as solo. The point is, when they arrive at your kitchen, a mushroom effect will take place. There’s no telling what you’ll create.

Victor Ribaudo

Is the nutty aroma of wild rice calling to you? I hear it. And how about succulent chicken, caramelized mushrooms and crisp tender broccoli? Set this platter before your family and watch the smiles. The chilly October breezes may be rattling the shutters but all of you will be feasting on his warming autumnal medley.

Chicken, Mushrooms and Broccoli with Wild Rice

Wild Rice

1 T extra virgin olive oil

3 T pine nuts

1 clove garlic, minced

Zest from ½ lemon

3 sprigs fresh thyme

1 cup wild rice

4 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the pine nuts, garlic, lemon zest and thyme. Swirl in pan until pine nuts begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the wild rice and cook stirring until lightly toasted, another 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook stirring from time to time about 45 minutes to 1 hour. The liquid should be absorbed and the rice should crack when done, but not curl. Test for doneness. If not yet done, add a little more liquid, if necessary, and cook until done. Remove from heat but keep warm.

Sautéed Chicken Breast

4 chicken breast halves with skin

Salt and pepper to taste

2 T olive oil

3 T butter. divided

1 small carrot, finely diced

1 medium stalk celery, finely diced

1 small onion, minced

1 sprig fresh rosemary

Season chicken breast halves with salt and pepper. Heat a deep skillet over medium heat until uniformly hot. Add 2 T oil and 1 T butter. Heat until butter is melted. Then add chicken skin side down and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until lightly colored. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Discard any fat from skillet. Add 2 T butter and heat until melted. Add carrots, celery, onions. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are softened. Return chicken to skillet, add rosemary and cook covered over moderately low heat until chicken is cooked through but still springy to the touch (about 5 minutes).

Remove chicken and set aside while preparing broccoli and mushrooms. Stir vegetable mixture in skillet into wild rice.

Mushrooms and Broccoli

2 T extra virgin olive oil

1 lb. white mushrooms, sliced

1 lb. fresh broccoli florets

3 T water

Wipe out skillet, reheat and add 2 T olive oil. Add mushroom slices, lightly salt and pepper and stir fry until nicely browned. Remove and set aside. Add broccoli florets to same pan, season lightly with salt and pepper, add 3 T water, cover and steam until crisp tender (about 3 minutes).

Assembling dish

2 stalks scallion, thinly sliced

On a large platter, arrange wild rice. Scatter scallions over top, fluff with a fork and remove thyme sprigs. Remove skin from chicken and discard. Slice each half into 1-inch segments, fan out and place on rice. Add mushrooms to one side and broccoli florets to the other. Serve. Makes 6 portions.

Photographer Bill Brady <a href=”” target=”_blank”></a>Written by Victor Ribaudo <a href=”” target=”_blank”></a> theribaudogroup.comRecipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika <a href=”” target=”_blank”></a> http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.comFood Stylist  <a href=”” target=”_blank”>Brian Preston Campbell</a>Blog syndicated at the <a href=”” target=”_blank”></a>