Recipes that make the most of mushrooms

Date:28-01-2014 08:58:25 read:3

Recipes that make the most of mushrooms

Mushrooms never fail to bring flavour to a dish and a smile to Diana Henry’s face


When I was cooking the pie recipe below I got waylaid. On the hob was a pan full of sliced chestnut mushrooms fried in olive oil – briskly, so they’d get a good colour – with a knob of unsalted butter and seasoning added towards the end. No parsley, no garlic, just mushrooms. They were supposed to be the filling for the pie, but I ate the lot (it was lunchtime). And I found myself disagreeing with Jane Grigson (a rare occurrence), who, in her excellent book The Mushroom Feast (1975), lamented how the ubiquity of cultivated mushrooms had devalued wild ones. She’s right that we should continue to value wild mushrooms, but wrong to view cultivated ones as poor relations.

Mushrooms are often described as tasting like meat, but they have a more deeply umami flavour than many steaks. Wild mushrooms have that to an extreme, and their flavour is more complex than that of cultivated ones. I recently had trouble finishing a plate of trompettes de la mort (I’m not spoilt – they were abundant and free). Their flavour was earthy, almost Bovril-like, and, served generously, almost too much. But I scoffed that panful of cultivated chestnut mushrooms without pause and thought how much flavour they give relatively cheaply. Of course the flavour of mushrooms varies in intensity. Those of the button variety are mild. Left to grow, they develop into closed-cups and then open-flats. The bigger they get, the deeper their flavour. Chestnut mushrooms are a cultivated strain, pale brown and nutty; meaty portobellos are their mature form.

I choose mushrooms according to what I want to make. The deep flavour of wide-flats is great in soup. Portobellos become even more woody and rich when roasted (splashed with balsamic and olive oil). Buttons – which many decry – are perfect raw in a salad of spinach and pecorino. Cooking mushrooms the right way is crucial. I used to fry them in butter only, but Antonio Carluccio taught me to sauté them in olive oil over a high heat first, to get a good colour (colour = flavour), then turn down the heat and add unsalted butter to enrich them.

The other key thing is to drive off the moisture mushrooms exude – very important if you are going to add them to an omelette or a pie – by whacking up the heat. And while you peruse these recipes don’t forget how good a pan of fried chestnut mushrooms can be on its own. So good I had to buy another batch to finish the pie.

Mushroom and leek pie recipe

Roasted mushrooms and onions with sherry and black pudding recipe

Mushrooms, potatoes and melting taleggio recipe

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