Delectable Liaisons

It’s hard to believe there are people over the age of 12, let alone professional cooks, who don’t like mushrooms (yes, I’m talking to you, Laura). I’d be tempted to blame the inherent slimy crudiness of the ubiquitous supermarket button mushroom, but I’m afraid that excuse just doesn’t cut it any more. We’ve had the food revolution, Michael Pollan is a household name, and chanterelles have made their way to the Safeway produce department. If you are lucky enough to have a local farmer’s market, you don’t even need to stop at chanterelles. Take a look at this haul:

4 mushrooms

The one on the top left is a big fat porcini. I’d never seen porcini in any form other than dried before, so I had to buy it and make a risotto, which I served with a nice steak tartare. (that’s right! I said steak tartare! Pretty wild, huh?) Next to the porcini is a lobster mushroom. If you are not familiar with lobster mushrooms, you need to know a) yes, they do taste like lobster – isn’t nature weird? and b) they are not mushrooms, per se, but a parasitic fungi that colonises a regular mushroom and turns it red. Yummy, yummy parasites. Bottom left is a matsutake or pine mushroom. These rare mushrooms are highly prized in Japan, going for around $2000 the kilo. If you live near me, you are extremely fortunate, because the other place they can be found is the Pacific Northwest of America (going rate about $20/ lb). They are subtle and delicious in a hotpot and taste faintly like cinnamon. And then of course, in the bottom right corner, our star, chanterelles!

1 lb is a lot of mushrooms.

1 lb is a lot of mushrooms.

This is a recipe for cream of mushroom soup, using chanterelles. Variations on this recipe abound across the internet (full credit to Hank Shaw at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook for this one), but they are all derived from the original by Escoffier. That means this recipe is French. Which means that you are not allowed, unfortunately, to play around much with the quantities, steps, and ingredients if you to want experience the true genius of that cuisine. Sure, you could omit the costly saffron, or substitute some other kind of mushroom, or use inferior supermarket eggs, but in the end you will be disappointed. This recipe is an opportunity to let truly good ingredients shine on their own. Be dazzled.

Cream of Chanterelle Soup

You will be preparing the mushrooms and the stock separately. The last step will be to mix in a thickening agent (or liaison) comprised of cream and eggs.

stock

6 cups chicken stock (real if possible)

2 Tb unsalted butter

2 Tb flour

Heat the chicken stock to a simmer. In a small saucepan, melt the butter until it is frothing (but not browning) and stir in the flour. Let this cook for a few minutes, but again, don’t let it brown. This is a white roux, not a blonde one.

Whisk the stock into the roux and let simmer gently while you prepare the mushrooms. You want it to reduce a bit.

mushrooms

1 lb chanterelles

2 shallots, minced

3 Tb unsalted butter

½ cup heavy cream

3 egg yolks

2 oz (1 shotglass) of brandy

¼ tsp saffron threads

Add the saffron to the shot of brandy so it has time to soak.

saffron

Chop the mushrooms finely and put them with the shallots and 1 Tb butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Sprinkle them lightly with salt to give osmosis the right idea, and stir them until the mushrooms sweat out their water. This will take 5-10 minutes.

Add the brandy and saffron to the mushrooms. Turn the heat up to high and, stirring, cook until the brandy has just about evaporated.

Add this point, blend the mushrooms to a pulp in a blender or food processor. If you use a blender, as I do, you will very likely need to add some stock to the mix and keep scraping down the sides. That’s okay, but don’t overdo the stock. Also, take as much time as you need, because the finer you pulp the mushrooms the easier the next step will be.

Push the mushroom pulp through a sieve into a bowl. This will take a while. A wooden spoon helps. Now you see why you had to puree it so much.

assembly

Mix the smooth, smooth mushroom goop into the stock and stir it well. Simmer for another ten minutes.

In another bowl, beat together the egg yolks and cream. Please use good free range eggs. Lesser quality eggs may make the soup taste eggy. I can’t stand dishes that taste eggy when they are not supposed to (especially cheesecake).

egg yolks

Add a little – about half a ladle – of the hot stock to the eggs while you whisk. The idea here is that you are blending the eggs with the hot stock so gently that the eggs do not cook and congeal. After you’ve (gradually) added four full ladles of stock to the eggs, you can pour it all back into the soup stock. Do not boil it! You will ruin it if you boil it!

whisking

To finish up, run the soup through the sieve again to get rid of any cooked eggy bits, and whisk in the remaining 2 Tb of butter. This is a very French touch.

Garnish with a few fried slices of chanterelle, and now tell me you don’t like mushrooms.

finished soup

8 comments to Delectable Liaisons

  • WarPig

    Very interesting. I like criminis and porcinis, but I cook with shitakes and portobellos (large criminis). I fry and eat the Morel, the KING of mushrooms, when I find some in the wilds here. My mushroom hunting spots are a secret I’m willing to do bodily harm over, because my lust for Morels knows few bounds and I eat them no other way than the way I first tasted them as a lad, fried by my grandmother in melted lard.

    I like the looks of the soup you made and I will try it when I can find some fresh mushrooms in the spring. I don’t usually make mushroom based soups or other delicate dishes with store-bought mushrooms. I reserve those for stews and such where a little difference in flavor is not noticeable.

    Ever try portobellos stuffed with sausage and Parmigiano-Reggiano? It makes an interesting taste and an excellent large appetizer or small first dish.

  • [...] to a figure drawing class after having been away from them WAY too long. And Dan just blogged about chanterelles, which are nearly the most perfect food on earth. Life’s on the [...]

  • oh, yum. You know, I was on my way to the bus this morning and did a double take at the complex across the way from me…there’s some friggin enormous funghi in the yard…I’m hoping to grab some photos and really make sure they’re real…I’m not used to seeing them left to grow so wild in this urban landscape.

    and thanks for the tip on the saffron…I’ve always wanted to experiment a bit with this flavor. Heck, that might be an interesting ice cream, eh? :D

  • Matt

    Btw, check out my best friend’s “Hen of the Woods” almost too pretty to eat: http://bigstonebounty.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/wild-treasure/#comment-37

  • That is a BIG mushroom. What do you do with it? Roast it whole and carve it?

  • Laura

    Ha! I probably should have come over and tasted it.

  • Thank you so much, I’ll have to subscribe your site and read the rest I think. The first date my wife and I had nearly 20 years ago now was a lovely seafood restaurant in Napoli, so I’ve been spending so long trying to rediscover a decent grilled lobster recipe like we had that night – our anniversary is next month so I’m hoping to surprise her!

  • > Ever try portobellos stuffed with sausage and Parmigiano-Reggiano? It makes an interesting taste and an excellent large appetizer or small first dish.

    *drool* That sounds wonderful. I think I’ll try it with Asiago; I like my cheese with a little more bite.