Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Moreish mushrooms

We didn't eat a lot of mushrooms when I was a kid - I think they were much harder to buy then than they are now. Of course they're best picked at dawn with the dew still on them in a fresh green field with birds pouring out their full-throated morning chorus etc etc. But fresh green mushroom-studded fields were a bit scarce in Mt Eden.
           If that was the only way to get mushrooms, they'd be permanently off the menu for most of us. I lose patience with those who insist it's hardly worth eating veges that aren't gathered from the wild (ha!), home-grown, or, at the very least, organic. We're much better off being able to buy different kinds of cultivated mushrooms locally than not having them at all.
           I used to think there wasn't all that much food value in these strange fleshy fluted things, but apparently I was wrong. They're about 85 percent water, but they're also high in fibre and rich in potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and calcium, as well as in vitamins B1, B6, C, H, and folic acid (which is rare in most veges). So there.
           My favourite way to eat the biggest, fattest ones is creamed, on or with buttered toast. You start with a basic white sauce (bĂ©chamel sounds better), and as you add the mushrooms they release their juices and turn it a marvellous dark stormcloud colour. It's a very simple dish, perfect for brunch or lunch, but it does need to be carefully made to taste as it should.

Creamed mushrooms with toast
As many big black mushrooms as you need - at least 4 for 2 people, depending on mushroom size

For the sauce (I usually guess now, but these are the correct proportions):
30 grams butter
30 grams plain white flour
About 450 ml (1 and a 1/2 cups) milk (full milk is best, but trim will do)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
splash of brandy (if you're feeling extravagant)

Remove tough ends of stalks and cut the mushrooms into chunks (roughly 2 cm square). Place in ceramic or glass microwave dish, cover and microwave for 1-2 minutes on medium high, just to soften them. (You can skip this step, but I find it helps commercially grown mushrooms cook more easily in the sauce later.) Set aside.

Heat the milk in a large glass jug in the microwave, in 30-second bursts on high, until it's close to boiling (watch it). Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over the lowest possible heat. Take off the heat and rapidly stir in the flour, using a wooden spoon. Return to heat and cook gently, stirring all the time to keep lumps at bay, until (says Julia Child) "the butter and flour froth together for 2 minutes without colouring". Take the pan off the heat and slowly pour in the hot milk, stirring madly as you go. Put pan back on low heat and cook the mixture gently, stirring all the time, until it thickens to a smooth sauce. If it seems to be getting too thick, add more milk, a little at a time (but see note about mushroom juice below).

Add the mushrooms and any juice with them (if they've been microwaved), then add seasonings to taste. A little finely grated nutmeg is essential. The brandy, if you've got any, is very nice too - just a tiny splash. Cook for a few minutes more, until the mushrooms are tender, the sauce is dark and it tastes right. (The thickening of the base sauce as it cooks is diluted by the mushroom juices being released, so it should all end up neither too thick nor too runny.)

Take the pan off the heat while you make the toast with any good bread you like, and butter it (with butter, I hope. Some people prefer crisp toast buttered when it's cold, but I am not among them.)  Heat the plates, gently reheat the mushrooms, and serve with more black pepper handy. If you like (and we often do), you can have crispy bacon on the side, but you'll have to fit in making that too, or have help.

And if there's a bit left over, I add more milk and some mushroom powder (or, dare I say it, a packet of mushroom soup - Julia would kill me, but too bad), blend it and turn it into nice soup for a weekday lunch.


Deborah said...

We've only just finished dinner, and now I feel hungry all over again.

Kenmure said...

I love mushrooms anyway stuffed,white sauce,fried etc.The best mushrooms I ever had was when I went to my brother in laws farm in Wellsford and we picked hundreds of field mushrooms,there was so many some were packed up and sent to the Auckland markets to sell.The size was huge.The excellent flavour must have had something to do with the cows.

Plain Jane said...

Cook crumble apples first! I never heard such nonsense. I imagine that would make the finished dish like baby food. I'm with Harvey on this one - a plain flour topping with the apple juice toffee-ising as it cooks.