Sunday, November 7, 2010

Iron Chef Night: MUSHROOMS!

Clare asked me to cook for a couple of her friends who were visiting here and she wanted me to do an "Iron Chef" night.  The question was what would be the secret ingredient.  Two out of the three people I would be cooking for were pescatarians, they ate only vegetables and fish.  I am not a big fan of the "seasonal" vegetables, such as squash and pumpkins, and I do not have enough experience cooking with them to make dishes comfortably. After whittling down the possible ingredients (all meats, seasonal vegetables, etc.), the secret ingredient was MUSHROOMS.


Fortunately, there are a wide variety of mushrooms out there.  I decided to go a little outside of the comfort zone with some of the dishes.  I made three dishes: one soup, one risotto, and one main dish.

For the soup, I saw a recipe for a Basque-style creamy mushroom soup.  I used the recipe as a guide but modified it to accommodate our guests.  The recipe calls for beef stock, which I could not use, so I substituted vegetable stock.  I also added the garnish of a basil leave and pink peppercorns, the latter of which provided a peppery taste that was not really there based on the recipe.

Recipe adapted from one submitted by Paul Chapin to the Linguist List Cookbook
Serves 4 

1/4 pound of butter
2 scallions (white part only)
1/2 pound of mushrooms (I used cremini and portabello), sliced
4 cups of unsalted vegetable stock
1 cup of heavy cream
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter on medium high in a pot.  Saute the mushrooms for about 10 minutes.   Add the scallions and saute for about two or three minutes more.  Reserve about 1/4 to 1/3 of the mushrooms for later.

2.  Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and let it cook for 20 minutes.

3.  Remove from the heat and let it cool.  Pour into a blender and liquefy it.  Return the liquefied mixture to the pot.

4.  Add the heavy cream and stir.  Add the remaining butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking the butter into the soup and making sure that each tablespoon is fully melted and blended in to the soup before adding another tablespoon.

5.  Divide the reserved mushrooms between the bowls. Pour in the soup and garnish with whatever you like.  I used a basil leaf and 5 pink peppercorns.


The next dish is a Wild Mushroom Risotto.  Once again, I had to make some substitutions.  Just like the soup calls for the use of beef stock, I would have used beef stock (or maybe chicken stock) to make this risotto.  I substituted vegetable stock in this recipe and the reserved liquid from re-hydrating the mushrooms.  And, as for the mushrooms, I used a couple of dried "wild mushroom" packs that had morels, chanterelles, oysters, and other mushrooms.  You can use any mushrooms, dried or fresh, although I like to use dried mushrooms so that I have the reserved liquid to flavor the stock used to make the risotto.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4  

1/2 ounce of dried mushrooms
4 cups of unsalted vegetable stock
Liquid from re-hydrating mushrooms (optional)
4 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of toasted onion
1 cup of white wine
Handful of basil leaves
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Parmigiano Reggiano

1.  In a pot, heat the vegetable stock and the reserved mushroom liquid to a simmer.  Add the toasted onion and three large basil leaves.  Salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat and keep the stock warm.

2.  In another pot, heat four tablespoons of butter on medium heat.  Saute the mushrooms for about ten minutes.  Add the rice and mix with the mushrooms and butter.  Add the wine and stir.  Cook until the wine is almost absorbed, stirring often.

3.  Add 1 cup of the stock to the rice and continue to stir until that cup is almost absorbed.  Add another cup of stock and repeat.  Once that cup is almost absorbed, add another.  You will have to add about four cups.  Everyone once in a while, taste the risotto to determine how much it is cooked.  Keep adding stock until the rice is almost al dente.

4.  Remove the risotto from the heat.  Portion the risotto in bowls and top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano.


Finally, I decided to make a fish dish, inspired by a recipe from Morimoto, but with Italian influences rather than Japanese flavors.  The fish is basically steamed in the a covered saute pan with a broth made from the reserved liquid from the re-hydrated mushrooms and white wine.  Whenever I make a fish dish, I always try to buy sustainable fish.  A good guide is Seafood Watch, which is a program of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.  Seafood Watch provides you with information about whether a particular fish has been over-fished or fished in a manner that harms the environment.  For example, I initially thought of using cod for this dish.  However, cod is very over-fished.  Seafood Watch recommends cobia or striped bass as alternatives.  I ultimately decided to use halibut, which is a fish that I love to eat. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

1 pound of halibut, sliced into four pieces
1/2 ounces of dried wild mushrooms
2 cups of white wine
3 large basil leaves, chopped
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1.  Rehydrate the mushrooms in warm water.  Strain the mushrooms using cheesecloth and keep the strained liquid.

2.  In a pot, add the reserved liquid and the wine. Add the basil.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Heat the liquid on medium high.
3.  Once the liquid is warmed, ladle some of the liquid into a saute pan.  Place the halibut pieces in the pan and cover it.  Heat the pan to medium high.  Once the liquid begins to boil and steam, ladle another cup over the fish and cover.  Add the mushrooms.  Cover.

4.  After a minute or two, ladle some more of the liquid over the fish and mushrooms and cover.  Repeat as necessary while the fish cooks, making sure that you don't add too much liquid. When the fish begins to flake, you are just about finished.  

5.  Remove from heat and plate the fish.  Top with some of the mushrooms.

For a side, I had a side of baby arugula, with some olive oil and ground pepper. 


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