The Food Issue
Given the price, you might not be buying a lot of fresh wild mushrooms from the store. But you want that wild fungus on your meat.
There are some simple ways to get those complex forest umami flavors onto your table and still leave enough leftover to buy that grass-fed t-bone. One trick, used by nearly any chef that promises you wild mushrooms on their menu, is to cut the wild mushrooms with cultured button mushrooms and other domestics. If you use three times the amount of domestic to forest gathered caps, the dish will still taste impressively wild.
Another option is to become adept at cooking with dried mushrooms, which are available all season and are more affordable. They actually cost more per pound than fresh, but when they’re re-hydrated they weigh a lot more. And dried mushrooms can hang onto their flavors impressively. I’ve still got gallons of dried morels I brought back from a picking adventure in Alaska in 2006, and they are not any worse for wear than when I first dried them.
The trick with using dried mushrooms is to properly rehydrate them. And by the time you finish this simple sauce recipe, meant to be served alongside meat, you’ll know how it’s done. I usually make it with morels, but dried chanterelles, porcini, and most any other will work too, as well as some buttons to cut them with.
Heat up some water or stock—about a half-cup of liquid per cup of dried morels. When it’s simmering, toss in your dried mushrooms. Simmer for 30 seconds and then turn off the heat and let them sit, covered, for at least an hour, gently stirring occasionally to ensure even contact between mushrooms and liquid.
A common mistake is to soak dried mushrooms in too much liquid, which pulls most of the flavors into the water, which is then discarded. Instead, you want to use just enough soaking liquid so that there’s only a small puddle of it on the bottom of the pan. If there’s no liquid at all, that means the mushrooms soaked it all up, and could probably take more.
Depending on their size and your preference, slice the mushrooms or leave them whole. Sauté them in butter with chopped yellow shallots or onions, which you can add at the same time as the mushrooms. Now is also the time to add supplementary button mushrooms if you’re augmenting.
The mushrooms and onions will initially give off a bit of water. Keep cooking, and as the water dries up begin adding sherry, and more butter if you wish. Every time the pan starts to dry out, add more sherry, stirring constantly. You can do this for a long time: as long as nothing burns, you can’t really overcook a morel.
Season with salt, pepper, and pinches of nutmeg until you can almost taste it. For a heavier, French variation, add heavy cream and lemon at the end, two minutes before removing from heat. Serve the wild mushroom sauce directly with your meat. Alternatively, toss it into wild rice with crushed almonds for a hearty side dish.