August 25, 2008

Champignon de Fay

The three-hundred mile wide oscillating sprinkler that was tropical storm Fay left mushroom tracks on local lawns. Most of these are probably edible macrolepiota americana, but maybe not.

We used to gather wild mushrooms as youngsters, relying on the unreliable folklore that the good ones had gills of tan to brown. The lighter the underbelly, the more dangerous the mushroom, all the way out to the chalk white Destroying Angel which, it was said, allowed victims who had ingested one to delightfully recover from acute gastrointestinal agony just before killing them.

But we knew slippery jack, and knew in exactly which pineywood understory the yummy fungi could be found. They found their way into many a stir fry, spaghetti sauce, or omelet. I brought my German boyfriend, a professional chef, with me on a Michigan outing one October. My old friend Walter, at whose house we were staying, suggested we gather some slippery jack for a roast. Off we went, and there they were: little drifted bunches, nestled among the carpet of pine needles in the white pine stand a short hike from the house. We brought home a goodly basket. Kurt was so taken with them that he went straight out the next day and picked a bunch more. And found several ways to cook and eat them all. He spent all next day in the bathroom. You never know with wild mushrooms. They're not tame. They can leave a native untouched and a visitor quite... touched. Kurt never held it against the slippery jack, which he still admired and even sampled again, though more prudently, in the weeks to come.

Today, my enjoyment of mushrooms is guided by the more reliable aphorism "There are old mushroom hunters, and bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old bold mushroom hunters." The only boldness I indulge these days, is in choosing between whole or sliced ones in the produce section.

I've been making duxelles since my twenties. It's a near-paste of minced mushrooms and shallots, saute'ed in butter. Traditionally, it is used in small dollops to flavor dishes. It can be kept, refrigerated, for a few days. I sometimes like it as a spread, on buttered toast.

8 oz. finely chopped mushrooms
1 shallot, finely chopped
Butter as needed
Parsley, chopped to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the mushrooms and shallot in butter until the mushrooms are browned. Season with the parsley, salt and pepper.