I love mushrooms, but if I am being honest, I was forever scarred by a an episode of Babar the Elephant. Are you familiar? Or was I one of the few who grew up watching the French cartoon classic?? Well, regardless, it was this emotionally poignant moment when the King of the Elephants dies from eating a poisonous mushroom. It’s a case of mistaken identity. He thought it was a shiitake, but he turned out to be wrong and paid with his life. Holy cow! I was a wreck over that as a kid. Maybe it’s because of the sweet grandfather figure that the King represented, or maybe it is just because my mom used it as a teaching moment! I totally remember the chide, “See, you don’t want to pick any mushrooms that you find growing on the playground lawn.” Needless to say, I am a mushroom lover who has NEVER gone out collecting mushrooms. I honestly don’t know if I will ever get over that childhood influence. I may forever look at wild mushrooms with an incredulous eye. However, I LOVE to buy them and use them in my meals all.the.time. I add them to sauces, throw them into salads, fry them up, and just munch on them while I cook. They are wonderfully delicious, the varieties have lovely flavor nuances, and the are little nutritional dynamos loaded with copper, potassium, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins like folate. Three cheers for the mushroom! He is such a fun-guy
With all that said, I thought it might be nice to make a simple meal of some of the common varieties that you may find at your local super market, but may not always find a way into your cart. I kept this recipe clean, vegan and happy, but you can totally sub in some cream and parmesan for the coconut cream and nutritional yeast in a jiffy.
The important thing is to start by soaking your dried black shiitake mushrooms…and no, these will not kill you. You will usually find them in the Asian aisle at your local grocery store. They need to soak in almost boiling water so that they can soften up. Remember to reserve the soaking liquid later, as it will be the mushroom broth that we add back into the ragout at the end.
When cooking mushrooms, the most important thing I can say is DO NOT CROWD THEM IN THE PAN. Seriously, if you want to taste all that a mushroom can be, then give it some room. Basically, if you sliced up all your mushrooms and threw them into the pan at once, they will just stew in their own juices. So, give ’em room. Cook you mushrooms in a nice wide pan, and cook them in stages so that you wind up with some beautifully browned bits.
Once the mushrooms are all cooked, it’s just about softening up some onion, adding the mushrooms back in and deglazing the pan with some dry sherry. I use a wooden spoon so that I can really scrape all the browned bits in the pan, so they can redistribute into the liquid and make a flavorful sauce. Then just add in the coconut cream, thyme, salt and pepper. Let it simmer for about 5 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld and then it’s ready to serve!
I love to pile mine on top of soft mounds of hot polenta (vegan recipe below), but you can serve this ragout over mashed potatoes or hot noodles, too. Garnish with a bit of chopped parsley or chives, and viola. A earthy, clean dish to enjoy the “fruits” of the season….er the fungus of the season! Num-num.
- 2 pints oyster mushrooms
- 1 pint crimini mushrooms
- 1 pack dried shiitake mushrooms
- 2 tbls olive oil, or more
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1/2 cup dry sherry
- 2/3 cup mushroom broth, reserved from soaking the shiitake mushrooms
- 1/2 cup canned coconut milk or cream
- 1 tsp dried thyme, or 1 tbls fresh
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley or chives for garnish
- FOR THE POLENTA
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 cup unsweetened plant-based milk
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (optional)
Start with your dried shiitakes. Place them in a heatproof bowl and pouring almost boiling water over them. Let them sit until softened. Make sure the reserve the liquid to use as your mushroom broth later.
While the shiitakes are prepping, begin your polenta by bringing 5 cups of water to a boil, then slowly sprinkle in one cup of cornmeal while whisking continuously. Turn the heat down to low, and clap on a lid. You can let it simmer while you prep the sauce. It can stay on low for 20-40 minutes, giving it the occasional stir.
While that simmers, start your ragout by wiping down your criminology and oyster mushrooms and giving them a slice. Take your softened shiitakes out of the water and give them a gentle squeeze before slicing them, too. Then, taking extra care not to crowd your mushrooms, cook your assortment on a medium high heat in a large skillet with some olive oil. I had to cook mine in three rounds, just so that the mushrooms could brown nicely (if you threw them all in at once, their moisture would just cause them to simmer in their own juices). I used a total of 1 tsp of salt, but feel free to distribute that amongst the mushrooms as you cook them in rounds.
Next, saute the onion until soft and then add your mushrooms back into the pan all at once. Pour in the sherry to deglaze the pan and grab all that beautiful color from browning your mushrooms (use a wooden spoon to really scrap at the pan for all that cooked-on flavor).
Lastly, add your coconut milk and mushroom broth. Let the mixture simmer with the thymes, salt and pepper for about 5 minutes.
Returning to your awaiting polenta, stir in the plant-based milk, nutritional yeast (optional), salt and pepper. If you feel like it has become to thick, feel free to add a little water (about a 1/4 cup at a time).
Plate the polenta in a shallow bowl or plate, and top with the rich mushroom ragout. Garnish with a little chopped parsley or chopped chives, and serve hot.