Tue. Dec 7th, 2021


Nothing takes me back to my first fall in England like the smell of mushrooms: the buzzing mulch of the forest floor with an edge of death and rot. My dad fixed a car for a man who turned out not to be able to afford to pay him. Billy was a natural barter. He put a dirty paw, soil under his nails, in my father’s hand and made a deal. He would provide us with a generous supply of mushrooms in exchange for my father’s labor. The Kentish countryside where he lived hosted a large variety of diverse fungal colonies that were scarce delicacies.

Billy showed up every weekend with a blue plastic crate full of mushrooms. I had previously only seen pale, anemic button mushrooms – paper-thin slices blown out on a cheese pizza – but our first delivery was mushroom pornography.

There were curious species of shiitakes that looked like roasted marshmallows, field mushrooms with rosy open gills, alien enoki, phallic king oysters, feathery hens-of-the-forest and chanterelles like thin golden parasols. The year before in Kenya I would not have considered eating it, but the aroma of browned butter, garlic and something that smelled ripe, fleshy and earthy was hard to resist that spicy October morning.

Mushrooms are mysterious. They are fairy-tale habitats, food, medicine, caregivers of soil, sometimes psychotropic and an essential link in the eternal cycle of decay and rebirth. Of course, they can also be poisonous, so find yourself a fungus fanatic like Billy or stay safe and stick to the wild or cultivated abundance at your local farmers market.

As people move to vegetarian food, mushrooms provide the texture and umami you might get in a steak. They are stubborn enough to stand up to the bravest seasonings and burst with their own unique meat juices, releasing them with little encouragement. Arm yourself with a scorching hot cast iron pan, a lump of butter and a little garlic and you too will fall under the spell of these underground beauties.

Pan-fried king oyster mushrooms with chicken butter sauce

Aaron Graubart

Serve four as an appetizer

For the chicken butter sauce

To operate

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas Mark 4.

  2. Carefully cut the mushrooms in half vertically. Using a sharp knife, lightly cut a 5 mm diagonal cross pattern into the cut side of the mushrooms. Place an ovenproof frying pan over high heat. Once the pan is almost smoked, add a dash of olive oil and the mushrooms with the cutting edge facing down. Turn the heat down to medium-high. Cook until they get a nice golden color. Add the butter to the pan. Once melted, add the thyme and garlic and then season with salt and pepper. Turn the mushrooms over, baste with the frothy butter and place in the oven while you make the sauce.

  3. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the shallots until soft and translucent, but not colored. Add the wine and chicken stock and cook until reduced by half, then add the diced butter cubes and beat with each addition until the sauce is thick and velvety soft. Stir in the lemon juice, crème fraîche and tarragon and season. Drain the mushrooms on kitchen paper and serve on brioche toast with the chicken butter sauce.

Ravinder Bhogal is chief patron of Kitchen. Follow Ravinder on Instagram @kookstewels on Twitter @kookstewels

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