To a forager, mushrooms are the most sacred of finds. The bounty not only tastes devine but showers riches on humble followers. Shrouded in secrecy, mushroom sites are only revealed to an inner sanctum of disciples (or sherpas). But be careful, straying from the path may result in damnation. Naturally I was curious to know more.
One Friday night I turned for guidance to the high-priest of hunter-gathering (and cooking)–Hank Shaw.
Hank has made a career as a foraging demi-god (he finds/kills his own food and knows how to cook it). Several books, blogs, websites and speaking engagements have propelled him to celebrity status–within the circles of foodie purists.
I joined Hank, along with a room full of eager students, to learn about mushrooms and their preparation. Throughout the two-hour class, Hank passed around his favorite fungi and entertained us with tales of mushroom hunting. Having been told by his mother NEVER to pick them, a 10th grade nature walk proved pivotal in convincing him otherwise. 30 years later he’s turned a fascination into a feast–and remarkably “never been poisoned”.
Several dishes were on our syllabus: Champignons Provencale, Pickeled Chanterelles and Porcini Ragu. Multi-tasking like a line chef (he was one), Hank blended, sliced and sauted his way through various varieties. For recipes check out Hank’s site: Honest-Food.
Beyond the joy of perfectly cooked food, we were also given tips-of-the-trade to save us hours of disappointment when replicating at home. Helpful hints included:
- Always cook mushrooms before eating (some carry toxins that can cause sensitivity, or sickness when eaten raw–especially Morels)
- Make sure the pan is hot enough to dry-saute and get the water out, then add the oil
- Salt more than you think you should
- “Pop” out mushroom stems with a finger
- Save trimmings to make mushroom stock
- Freezing mushrooms is a great way of keeping them
The highly entertaining evening was well worth the drive to suburban Sacramento. I’m feeling a trip to Berkeley Bowl coming on to grab some wild varieties and concoct my own kitchen experiments. Now, if only I had a “high burner” stove….
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