A Learned Love for the Wild
My appreciation for wild (and cultivated exotic) mushrooms really sprang up when I met John Gottfriend nearly forty years ago. A specialty-mushroom dealer in New York City and a founder of The Gourmet Garage, he introduced me to porcini, morels, chantrelles, and shiitakes, not to mention lobster mushrooms, chicken-of-the-woods and truffles, treating me to dishes featuring them in some of his best client restaurants.
Just the Right Canvas
It was a real education, one that remains ongoing as more and more hand-harvested, truly wild mushrooms, plus a few new cultivated types, continue to turn up in the city’s best produce shops. One of the most delicious ways to experience the woodsy harvest is in this intense mushroom soup, in which a mixture of dried mushrooms is supplemented by meaty fresh portobellos.
Truly wild mushrooms are hand-gathered in the woods and are dried to preserve them for year-round use. Some cultivated exotic mushrooms, such as shiitakes, can also be found dried. Due to moisture loss – not to mention the labor involved – dried mushrooms are expensive, but an ounce (about 1 cup) will richly flavor a dish feeding at least six diners. Sometimes found in bulk, more increasingly sold in bags or even plastic jars, dried mushrooms or whatever variety should be free from dust or cobwebs, which indicate insect infestation. Store them away from heat and light (in the freezer in humid climates) and use them within a year or so. Dried mushrooms are rinsed to rid them of grit (hand-harvested in the wild, they have been subjected to minimal processing), then soaked in hot liquid, preferably one that can be incorporated into the dish, to reconstitute them. Less expensive fresh mushrooms are sometimes used in the dish to augment the bounty. The reconstituted mushrooms still need to be cooked to fully tenderize them and extract every drop of flavor.
- 1 ounce dried wild mushrooms
- 6 cups homemade chicken stock
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 1/4 pounds (3 large) portobello mushrooms, stems discarded, caps chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
- 2 salt
- 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
- 1 cup finely chopped carrot
- 1 cup finely chopped leek (white and pale-green parts only)
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme (dried or fresh)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 cup medium-dry Madeira wine
- 2 Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- In a strainer under cold water, rinse the dried mushrooms. In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups of the chicken stock to a boil. Add the rinsed mushrooms, remove from the heat and let stand, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is cool and the mushrooms reconstituted.
- With a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms from the liquid, pressing as much of the liquid out of them and back into the pan as possible; finely chop the mushrooms. Let the liquid settle, then pour off and reserve the clear portion; there should be about 1 1/2 cups. Discard the sandy residue.
- In a 5-quart pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the portobellos and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have rendered their juices, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped wild mushrooms, onion, carrot, leek, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Lower the heat, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are becoming tender, about 10 minutes more. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables as they become more and more tender, about 10 minutes. Add the Madeira, raise the heat to high and cook, tossing and stirring often, until the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the remaining 4 cups of chicken stock, the reserved mushroom liquid and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer, partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender and the soup has reduced to 6 cups, about 30 minutes.
- Cool slightly, then transfer half the soup to a food processor and puree, or force it through the medium blade of a food mill. Return the puree to the soup pan and stir. (The soup can be prepared to this point up to 3 days in advance. Cool completely, cover and refrigerate.)
- In a medium pot over low heat, bring the soup to a simmer. Stir in the parsley and adjust the seasoning. Serve hot.
I can even taste the beautiful flavors in my mind.
Happy, healthy, better 2021….with lots of promise for better days.