Busy? My word. You must be too. Won’t keep you long.
Mushrooms, the cultivated ‘normal’ variety, sweating quietly under their supermarket-friendly plastic wrap are not my cup of tea. Not for want of trying, mind you. A big field one smothered (and I do mean smothered) in garlicky parsley butter, baked until it oozes dark, earthy juices then quickly, drippingly, sandwiched into a mustard-smeared roll, Nigella-style, is a delicious, decadent meal for one. Chopped small and snuck undetectably into croquettes, mushies are just fine. But given a bundle of smarty-pants exotic mushrooms, things change dramatically. Not that oyster, shiitake or enoki mushrooms are very exotic nowadays – the variety of funghi that turn up at the market is truly surprising - it’s just that they, ahem, look a whole lot prettier.
There you have it. I am, in truth, shallower than you (may have) imagined.
Oyster mushrooms, pale, delicate fans, pretty as a picture, are by far my mushroom of choice. Clusters range in size, some as tiny and sweet as a pinky fingernail, others larger, just, than the soft fist of a newborn babe. Those with palates more refined than mine will tell you that oyster mushrooms taste, vaguely, of the bivalves they unwittingly imitate. Alas, I cannot tell. I love the way their gills and frilly edges crisp in the pan. I love the way they absorb flavour. And yes, I love, love, LOVE the way they look.
Until now I’ve been pan-frying them until golden and, at the last moment, melting in a generous knob of butter laced with lots of finely grated ginger. Simple, elegant. Then a comment left here caught my attention. Heather’s suggestions using sesame oil, the pale, buttery stuff, got me cooking and playing. I made this three times in as many days.
Thank you, Heather, very much indeed.
An Asian mushroom salad - for 2
Okay, so a lot of the ingredients here are, like my choice in mushrooms, smarty-pants ones. I went through a macrobiotic phase, you see, and some of those ingredients, umeboshi vinegar particularly, have stuck. The marinated mushrooms will keep for a few days, refrigerated, in a tightly lidded container. They are a very good addition to anything needing a ‘meaty’, umami hit.
For the mushrooms:
1 very large handful of oyster mushrooms (about 100g)
1 very large handful of fresh shiitake mushrooms (about 8)
1 tablespoon of pale sesame oil (not the dark stuff)
1 tablespoon of Chinese black vinegar
1 tablespoon of tamari (or a good soy sauce)
2-3 drops of dark, toasted sesame oil
Gently tear any large oyster mushrooms in two. Discard any stalks that look too tough. Destalk your shiitakes and slice the caps thickly.
Warm the pale sesame oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Toss in the mushrooms when the oil is hot and sauté them until golden in patches (5-7 minutes is ample).
Remove the mushrooms to a shallow dish or a large bowl and pour over the remaining ingredients. Toss well and leave to marinate for at least 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate if you’re keeping them for longer. Drain before serving.
For the dressing:
Whisk 1½ tablespoons of pale sesame oil with equal quantities of sweet white miso and rice vinegar in a small bowl. Add a large splash of umeboshi vinegar and ¼ teaspoon of hot English mustard (or prepared wasabi). Whisk again.
For the salad:
Take 2 heads of bok choy and separate. Wash and dry thoroughly (sticky sand always seems to accumulate at the base of bok choy leaves). Cut the stalks from the leaves and sliver the stalks lengthways. Keep any very small leaves intact and cut any large leaves in half. Toss them into a large salad bowl with 4-5 handfuls of salad leaves (I used baby spinach) and 1 golden shallot, very thinly sliced. Dress (see above) and toss over and over. Add the marinated mushrooms (see above) and toss again. Serve immediately.