While I lived in Louviers, which is surrounded by woods and takes its names from the wolves who once lived in them (loup = wolf), every autumn I struck out with my pal, Louis, to hunt mushrooms. Of the mushroom aficionados I know, he was the generous one who showed me his secret spots, and insisted I fill my basket to the brim. While he knew right where to go, he also understood, like all mushroom hunters, that there was no predictability at all. A patch that might have yielded kilos of coveted cèpes (porcini/bolete) one year could be barren the next, or else filled with mousserons or pieds de moutons, which are tasty but not nearly as exciting!
Head Out to the Woods
We would head off with a thermos of coffee, cups, boots, rain slickers and forage our way through the woods. We always found something, and once it was a russule charbonnière that was on a tall, skinny stalk with a flat whitish cap the size of a pizza. We took it home and treated it like a pizza, drizzling it with olive oil, sprinkling it with minced garlic and peppers and roasting it in the oven, then eating it by the slice. I’ll never forget it and from what Louis says, that’s good because it was a rare find.
If you don’t have wild mushrooms in abundance, I have a trick for stretching and getting the most from what you do have. (First, know from whom you are getting your mushrooms, or from whence you are harvesting them. You know who dies most often from eating the wrong mushroom? Brave, intrepid mushroom experts…hold that thought.)
Handful of Wild Mushrooms
Now, get yourself a few – a big handful – of wild mushroom, it doesn’t matter the variety though cèpes (boletes, porcini) are magical (and so are morilles – morels – but they appear in spring), then get a pound or more of button mushrooms and or cremini – they are basically the same, just different colors.
Clean Without Water
Brush and clean them all without water, then cook them together as per the recipe. You will find yourself with a fricassée that tastes and feels like wild mushrooms, but has the bulk of the cultivated variety. It’s a tiny slight of the skillet and spatula but everyone will be so delighted they may not actually notice. And if they do, they’ll still scoop them up with abandon!
First Course or Side
Serve this as a first course or alongside a grilled steak or duck breast.
MUSHROOM FRICASSEE - FRICASSEE DE CHAMPIGNONS
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 slices air cured ham cut in 2-inch (5cm) wide strips
- 5 whole garlic cloves peeled, green germ removed, diced
- 2 pounds (1 kg ) wild or cultivated mushrooms, or a mixture of both, cleaned and stemmed
- trimmed cut in quarters (or, if small, left whole)
- ½ cup (125 ml) chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons dry sherry
- 2 cups (20 g) flat leaf parsley, gently packed
- 2 cups (80g) ¼ x ¼ inch (.6 x .6 cm) cubes of day-old bread, toasted
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ham and cook until it is golden but not too crisp, a minute or two. Remove from the pan and reserve. Add the remaining tablespoon of the oil, the garlic, and the mushrooms to the pan and cook, stirring and shaking the pan, until the mushrooms are golden, about 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken stock and the sherry to the pan, shake it well so that all the ingredients are combined, and continue cooking the mushrooms until they are tender through, about 5 minutes.
- Mince the parsley.
- Add the croutons, the parsley, and the ham to the pan and cook, shaking the pan, until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined and the mushrooms are slightly crisp at the edges. Taste for seasoning and serve.