Tuesday, December 11, 2007

'O' is for Oyster Mushrooms

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.

freshest shiitake's I've ever seen...


Christina said...

Hooray for mushrooms! This salad sounds wonderful; it is the type of meal that I can happily wolf down. Last month, I told ECG that what I really wanted for Christmas, more than anything (other than his sweet lovin'), was a grow-at-home mushroom kit.

Let's keep our fingers crossed, shall we?

Susan said...

The WSJ just published a lengthly article on umami. I'm with you, Lucy. Exotic funghi's allure lies in their funk. Love it.

Suganya said...

Bok-choys? Raw? I haven't tried that. The salad looks more like a treat than a salad. The mushrooms are glistening with the dressing.

Wendy said...

Mushrooms, fish and blue cheese - the foods I eat in abundance when D is elsewhere.
This salad sounds wonderful. I love umeboshi but have never tried the vinegar. Will keep an eye out for it. :)

Anh said...

Mushrooms are such joys of life. I really like your salad. very interesting take for us Asians who love stir-frying, steaming and blanching bok choy :D

Rachael said...

That is just so simply, wonderfully, incredibly divine. Sigh.

Johanna said...

I got to agree that the 'exotic' mushrooms look so amazing but I am a fan of (cute as a) button mushrooms! Your salad looks lovely

Rosa said...

Oh good, something to do with the 1 kg of white miso that I bought at the Asian supermarket. No, it didn't come in a smaller size!

Lucy said...

Now THAT is a fabulous Christmas present, Christina. I'm crossing all that I can for you...but I'm pretty sure that ECG will come through.

Must see if I can find the article Susan. Don't you just love that word - a perfectly apt decriptor for something so difficult to put your finger, exactly, on.

Suganya, I'm trying to eat a lot more raw food this summer and so long as your bundles of bok choy aren't massive, and their stalks VERY finely sliced, they are wonderfully sweet in a salad.

That's hilarious Wendy - you know, before I gave up meat, my dining alone thing used to be proscuitto and (still is) prawns in the Artist's absence. I think you'll love the vinegar - really deep pink (like you, pink's a favourite colour here!) and as salty but addictive as those plums. Love the stuff.

They are gorgeous Anh - and there's such a huge variety to choose from out there. Fun for adventurous cooks. I'm loving bok choy right now - a member of the cabbage family, but not quite so stinky!

Ah, Rachel, it's just the weather down here for a large bowl of something simple, but that still holds just a little bit of interest for the cook!

Thanks Johanna - thing is with those button 'shrooms, I just end up sauteing them with garlic and parsley and they just never really seem that interesting! Might make it a mission to learn to like them next year, as I did with beetroot this year.

Rosa that's too funny! I have been feeling guilty about the 500g bag that's been hanging about in the fridge for some time...love that dark red miso, but the white is too sweet for my liking. I've been making the dressing often and slowly, the bag is emptying!

Cynthia said...

You make some of the tastiest food around and always with the freshest of ingredients.

Laurie Constantino said...

Mushrooms. I love mushrooms. In August and September in our Alaskan yard we are able to gather lovely mushrooms, mostly boletes. When we drive to the nearby national forests, there are even oyster mushrooms. Your piece was very interesting because I've always dismissed oyster mushrroms as beautiful, bland, and boring. I think it's time I give them another chance. Thanks for the new perspective!

Lucy said...

Gosh, Cynthia, thanks! It's very tasty this one. Lots of crunch, too.

Laurie, I would love (LOVE!) to be able to pick my own mushrooms. Hope to do so one day. Oysters are worth using because they really do absorb flavour, almost anything you care to throw at them, in a way that other, stronger flavoured mushrooms just don't.

Laurie Constantino said...

Lucy, I think the key to mushroom gathering is to find someone in your community who is an expert in the region's edible mushrooms. There are so many lookalikes that using books can only get you so far, and the primary mushroom gathering rule is "when in doubt, throw it out." Most people who gather mushrooms also love them and are happy to share their expertise.

Lucy said...

Ah, yes, Laurie. An expert would be wonderful, but it's a dry old continent this one, and so few mushrooms to pick. The man I buy mushrooms from at the market runs little outings from time to time and I will look out next year for his times. Too scary otherwise!

Anonymous said...

A very special salad, and one that I will try. Love the inclusion of sesame, and umeboshi.

Anne Webb said...

Your photos are just as mouth-wateringly delicious as your recipes look. Hooray for mushrooms indeed! Lovely blog.

Lucy said...

You know Vegeyum, I can't think of anything prettier on my pantry shelf than pink umeboshi vinegar. Love the salty flavour too.

Gosh, Anne, thank you! Yeah for mushrooms, indeed. Such delectable little morsels...yum.

Maggie said...

This sounds like a great salad! I really love miso in dressings lately.