Some people spend their money on gadgets, rare wines, drugs or Craftsman tools. I spend mine on mushrooms.
And after eating an orgasmic mushroom soup I made with some chanterelles last weekend, I feel entirely justified in my choice. Who needs a cordless drill or a ’57 Dom Perignon when you have this soup?
I’ve recently acquired a mushroom “dealer,” Joseph Daugherty of Oregon, who sells me wild mushrooms at prices well below what I would spend at the Davis Farmer’s market. My first shipment was spring porcini, this latest was golden chanterelles.
I feel certain my friends Lang and Heather and tsk! tsk!-ing me right now. “Oh, Hank. You know you can forage for these beauties yourself, right?” Yes, I do. But I would have to drive at least 400 miles north looking for a stretch of forest that already has had some rain. We won’t get our own rain here in California until the end of September — at the earliest.
And damnit, I want my chanterelles now! I’ve said before that if I were forced to go vegetarian, I could survive by eating mushrooms. Golden chanterelles are the most common variety of chanterelle here in the Pacific, and those in the Pacific Northwest can start getting them in July. Here they don’t really pop until October, although you can go up to Humboldt and dodge the pot farmers for them in September.
Golden chanterelles are far less meaty and are more delicate than porcini, or really most any other common edible mushroom. Chanterelles taste floral and smell fruity, although I could not quite pick up the apricot notes many say golden chanterelles possess. To me, chanterelles are less of a beef-venison-duck mushroom than a wild boar-pheasant-fish mushroom. Think white wine instead of red.
I have never heard of anyone eating chanterelles raw, and several sources say raw chanterelles can make you sick. So I would not repeat my delicious raw spring porcini salad. No matter. These ‘shrooms cry out for the saute pan. So the first night my five-pound shipment arrived, I made a simple pasta with them: orecchiette pasta, parsley, thyme, chanterelles, garlic, homemade lardo cut into batons, a little lemon juice and lots of butter.
Oh yes, butter. I admit to being re-acquainted with butter because of the movie “Julie and Julia,” but it also happens that mushrooms in general — and golden chanterelles in specific — enjoy a bath in butter far more than they do a dip in any other sort of fat or oil. I defy you to not swoon when you smell chanterelles, garlic and homemade lardo sizzling in a pan of hot butter. I sure did.
After that first night’s chanterelle orgy — Holly and I ate nearly a pound of fresh chanterelles in that meal — I dried at least another pound in that blast furnace we call a garage. Chanterelles dry very easily, and since we’ve been having hot weather (it was 108 degrees on our front porch the other day!) the mushrooms were ready in 36 hours. I now have two quart jars of dried chanterelles that have a date with some grouse this fall. More on that later.
Next up was a fish dish. The light, slightly floral and spicy flavor of chanterelles works well with light fish such as halibut, and I still had some after the big fishing trip I went on with my Dad and brother earlier this summer. This time I lightened things up even further by adding grated ginger and lemon zest into the mushrooms, shallots and butter.
To finish, I dry-seared some especially pretty chanterelles and put them on top of the fish. Dry searing is one of my favorite ways to cook mushrooms: Hot pan, add mushrooms. Don’t crowd, stir often. Watch them brown and release their water. Chanterelles are pretty dry to begin with, so you will need to watch them closely, as they finish in half the time it takes to sear off button mushrooms or porcini.
How was it? I overcooked the halibut a touch, but the sauce was lovely: Sharp, aromatic — you can really smell the chanterelles when they mix with lemon juice — and light enough to make the chanterelles the bass note in the dish. (Here is the recipe.)
I know, I know: You’re thinking, “What about that soup you were mooning over earlier?” Well, I decided — in an ode not to Julia Child but to the grand master of classic French cooking, Auguste Escoffier – to make a cream of mushroom soup.
And this ain’t your mama’s cream of mushroom soup, folks. No packets here, no cans, either. This is the real deal. Remember how the evil chef in “Ratatouille” rolled his eyes back in his head when he tasted Remy’s soup? This is that kind of soup. And this is about as classic French as it gets. I present to you, dear readers, the Sexiest Soup in the World: Escoffier’s Cream of Chanterelle Soup.
Holy sweet Jesus on the cross was this good! The flavor hammers you with chanterelle’s beguiling flavor, backed with a whiff of saffron, the creamy mouthfeel of a classic veloute (stock whisked with a blond roux), and a slightly slutty wink from the dash of Armagnac I put in, all given added heft from a liaison of cream and egg yolks. Folks, this is what you want to eat right before a romp with Bella – fleas be damned.
Veloute, you say? Liaison? If you’ve dusted off your Mastering The Art of French Cooking, you may have recently been reminded of these terms, or if you are classically trained you may be having flashbacks (or, if you are Michael Ruhlman, that champion of classic French, you will be cheering.)
Veloute (vel-oo-TAY), is easy. It’s a mixture of hot stock and a roux made from equal parts flour and butter. You must whisk in the stock to get the mixture to set correctly, which, when it does, makes a broth that looks like liquid satin.
Liaison is a bit harder, but only a bit. It is an ancient method of thickening a soup, by adding a mixture of beaten egg yolks and cream (the Greeks make avgolemono by adding a mixture of egg yolks and lemon). The trick is to temper your eggs so they do not scramble, then never letting the soup boil after the liaison is added.
The result? Sex in a bowl.
ESCOFFIER’S CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP
This is my adaptation of Auguste Escoffier’s Veloute Agnes Sorel, from his classic Guide Culinaire, available as Escoffier: The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery. This is a rich, lovely mushroom soup that screams for Chardonnay — or at least some sort of full-bodied white that’s gone through malolactic fermentation. Maybe a Lodi Viognier… OK, I digress.
What makes this soup Escoffier is the fact that I am using a veloute (vel-oo-TAY), a mixture of a simple butter-flour roux and poultry stock. I am also putting the soup together the way Escoffier directs, although I leave the addition of a liaison of eggs and cream up to you. I like it.
What makes this soup me is that I am using chanterelles, a bit of brandy (Armagnac to be precise), and a touch of saffron — because I like the idea of it with the golden chanterelles I used. What if you can’t find fresh chanterelles? You can buy them fresh or dried online, or use another fresh mushroom and omit the saffron. Other shrooms I’d suggest would be, in order: porcini, morels, cremini, button. If you make this with another kind of mushroom and like it, definitely leave me a comment so I can give it a whirl.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
- 6 cups chicken stock, or pheasant, turkey or quail stock (you can go with duck or goose stock if you use morels, cremini or porcini mushrooms)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 pound fresh mushrooms
- 2 minced shallots
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup cream
- 1 shot brandy (Armagnac is my preference)
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron
- Salt to taste
- Make the veloute. Heat the stock to a bare simmer. In another pot, heat the butter until frothing and stir in the flour. Stirring all the while, let this cook for a few minutes over medium heat. Do not let it brown.
- Whisk the hot stock into the roux and let this simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often. You want it to slowly cook down by at least 1/3 and be silky looking.
- While the veloute is simmering, make the mushroom base. Mince the mushrooms and shallots fine and sweat them in a saute pan over medium heat with a touch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the shallots are translucent and the mushrooms give up their water.
- Crumble the saffron into the brandy and add it to the mushroom base. Turn the heat up to high and toss or stir to combine. Cook until the brandy is nearly gone.
- Buzz the mushroom base into a puree in a food processor.
- OPTIONAL: If you want a truly refined French soup, push this puree through a fine-mesh strainer.
- When the veloute is ready, add the mushroom puree and stir well to combine. Cook this at a bare simmer for 10 minutes.
- OPTIONAL: If you want a mushroom garnish, slice a few chanterelles lengthwise and sear them in an dry pan until they give up their water and brown.
- Beat together the egg yolks and cream, then ladle — a little at a time — some soup base into the egg-cream mixture. This is called a liaison, and you are tempering the eggs with the hot stock slowly, so they do not congeal. Once you have 3-4 ladles of soup into egg-cream mixture, pour it all back into the soup and simmer. DO NOT BOIL.
- OPTIONAL: Put this soup through the fine-mesh strainer again to remove any lumps and return to low heat.
- To finish the soup, turn off the heat and whisk in the remaining butter.
- Serve with the seared mushrooms in the center, with crusty bread and white wine. Enjoy decadence.