Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Harvest Time

No matter where I've lived, fall has always been my favorite time of year.  In Napa, it meant the crush, the entire valley perfumed with ripe grapes...  In Tahoe it was the beginning of crisp days with the aspen leaves starting to turn and the excitement of the first fat snowflakes...  Here in the Northwest, it is mushroom season.  With our lush forests and mild climate, we experience an autumn bounty, ripe for the taking by anyone who doesn't mind getting their hands dirty.  It's a touch bittersweet, hailing the end of beautiful weather and perfect produce, soon we will be back to cooler temperatures, kale, cabbages and winter squash...

twenty pounds of chanterelles in about an hour...not bad!!

One of the most common questions I get from guests at dinner parties is how to coax more flavor out of mushrooms.  People complain that their mushroom dishes turn out watery and tasteless, but they know that if treated right, mushrooms have an intense umami flavor and a meatiness that rivals many beef dishes.

The trick for mushrooms is this:

In a heavy skillet (cast iron is best), heat a copious amount of butter or olive oil until very hot.  You will be walking a fine line here between creating a good sear and burning the butter/oil solids.  While your pan is heating, cut up your mushrooms into bite-sized chunks: halves or quarters for button mushrooms and random geometric shapes for larger varieties.  Add just enough mushrooms to cover the bottom of the pan- do not crowd them, and then do not touch them for at least three minutes.  After they have had time to brown on one side, turn them and repeat the same act of patience.  If your mushrooms are very watery, this will take a bit longer as all of the liquid will have to cook out before the pieces can begin to brown.  When the mushrooms are brown on all sides, remove them to a bowl, wipe out the pan, add more fat, and continue until you have as much as you need.  If you want to incorporate garlic or fresh herbs, add them towards the end of the last batch.  The high heat needed to sear the mushrooms will burn the garlic and kill the flavor of the herbs long before the mushrooms are cooked if added too early, and salt towards then end of the cooking time.  Salting early on draws out too much moisture and slows things down. 

Once you have the mushrooms seared, you can fold them into or use them to top just about anything...pasta with a bit of cream and tarragon, an omelet, mac'n'cheese, or, as I did last night, on top of soft polenta enrobed in taleggio cheese with thyme, rosemary,  tarragon and parsley.  Oh, and a dash of truffle oil for good measure!


  1. Great stuff Jasmine! I hope I can visit you and
    Tomasz when I relocate to the west coast. I love the gardens, chickens, and the remodeling adventures. I showed the pics to my parents and they were amazed. Take care, Doug

  2. Bon appetit!

    Great write-up and lovely presentation!