Mushroom magic

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 November, 2003, 12:00am

In the autumn months, hunters in rural areas go out armed - not with guns and dogs, but with small spades, brushes and baskets to carry home their prey. They search the woods for wild mushrooms - porcini (or cepes), chanterelles (or girolles), matsutake or puffballs, depending on whatever grows in their country. The ultimate find, of course, is black or white truffles.

We in Hong Kong do not have much chance to gather our own wild mushrooms; and anyway, it is not the safest activity unless you really know what to look for. I limit my search to wet markets for locally grown varieties and supermarkets for exotic (and expensive) mushrooms imported from Italy and France. Dried mushrooms are wonderful as an addition to some dishes, and even on their own, because their flavour is so much more concentrated. Some dishes benefit from a drop or two of white truffle oil stirred in at the end, but take care not to add too much because the flavour can be overwhelming.

Mixed mushrooms with garlic and cream (pictured)

This can be made with whatever mushrooms are being sold at the wet market - I usually find at least four types are available in Hong Kong, including fresh shiitake, enoki, oyster and button.

Do not crowd the saute pan; cook the mushrooms in batches, if necessary. These are good on toast or with meat, eggs (scrambled or in an omelette), polenta (freshly made and creamy or chilled overnight, sliced and pan-fried). If you serve the dish with pasta, add some white wine near the beginning so the sauce is not so thick, and sprinkle with plenty of grated parmesan cheese at the end.

30 grams unsalted butter

15 ml oil

1 kilo mixed mushrooms

30 grams dried porcini (optional)

2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced

200 ml cream

Chopped parsley

Fine-grained sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

If using porcini, rinse them under cold water then soak in warm water until soft. Squeeze the excess moisture from the mushrooms. Reserve the soaking liquid after straining it through a fine sieve. Rinse the fresh mushrooms under cold running water, then drain and pat dry. Remove any hard, woody stems. Halve or quarter the larger mushrooms so the varieties are evenly sized. Cut the stems from the enoki.

Heat the butter and oil in a saute pan and when it starts to sizzle, add the mushrooms (including porcini and soaking liquid, if using), garlic, salt and pepper. Turn the heat to high and cook the mushrooms quickly, stirring frequently. The mushrooms will release a lot of moisture initially. Once they start to re-absorb the liquid and dry out, stir in the cream and let it reduce until it lightly coats the mushrooms. Taste for seasoning, then stir in the parsley and serve.

Stuffed mushrooms

My grandmother made this often, and it was one of our favourites. I've tried making it with fresh shiitake, but the dried varieties hold up much better.

10-12 large (about 5cm in diameter) dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water until soft

250 grams minced pork

4-6 medium-sized fresh prawns or shrimp, peeled and chopped

1 tbsp soy sauce, plus extra for drizzling

11/2 tsp rice wine

1 lightly heaped tsp corn starch

1 tsp oil

A dash each of sugar, fine-flaked sea salt and finely ground white pepper

1 spring onion, minced

A small handful of fresh coriander, chopped

For the topping:

2 spring onions, chopped

2 tbsp oil

Remove the tough stems from the mushrooms, then squeeze out excess water from the caps.

Mix the minced pork, chopped prawns or shrimp, soy sauce, rice wine, corn starch, oil, sugar, salt, pepper, spring onion and coriander. Gently press this mixture into the mushroom caps, mounding it slightly on top. Put them in one layer on a heat-proof platter and drizzle lightly with soy sauce. Heat the water in the bottom of a tiered steamer. When the water boils, put the platter into the top tier, cover, and steam for 10-15 minutes.

Heat the oil in a small pan. When the mushrooms are ready remove them from the steamer, scatter the chopped spring onions on top, then drizzle with the hot oil. Serves four as part of a Chinese meal.

Mushroom risotto

Risotto is easy to make, but takes about 30 minutes of constant stirring. The amount of liquid is not precise - that will depend on the rice (popular varieties are arborio and carnaroli). When it is ready, the risotto should be creamy and each grain should be firm but not crunchy.

300 grams mixed fresh mushrooms

20 grams dried porcini or morels

1 clove garlic, minced

60 grams unsalted butter, divided

? small onion, diced

2 cups risotto rice

3 cups (approximately) chicken stock (if using Swanson's, use half water and half broth)

A few drops of white truffle oil, optional

60 grams grated parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling

Fine flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Wash the fresh mushrooms and chop them finely. Soak the porcini or morels in one cup of warm water until soft, then squeeze out excess moisture and chop finely. Strain the soaking liquid through a fine sieve and reserve.

Melt half the butter in a saute pan. Add the garlic, fresh mushrooms and porcini or morels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook quickly over a high heat until the liquid starts coming out. Drain in a colander, reserving the liquid. Add this to the porcini-soaking liquid and keep warm.

Pour the stock into a small saucepan, bring to a simmer and keep hot.

Melt remaining butter in a deep, heavy pan, add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the rice and stir over a medium-high heat for about 30 seconds. Add the mushroom liquid half a cup at a time, stirring in each addition before adding more.

When the mushroom liquid is used up, start stirring in the chicken stock half a cup at a time - you might not need it all. When it is ready, season to taste, add the cooked mushrooms and grated parmesan, then stir in the white truffle oil, if using. Sprinkle with additional parmesan at the table. Serves four.

Food styling Leonie van Hasselt