dsc00068.jpgfrom Casual Cooking, p. 186

Being on a diet is boring. I watch my calories all week so that I can enjoy myself with moderation on the weekend. At the Co-op today, I noticed the mushrooms: hedge hogs, chanterelles, and all sorts with Japanese-sounding names. I scooped up a variety in quantities calculated not to break the bank. Chanterelles are my weakness. They’re so meaty and earthy. This recipe does not call for exotic mushrooms of the kind we in northern California are privileged to find in our groceries. I’ve made this dish with cremini and the results were delicious. Like many of the other recipes I’ve posted, Chiarello’s recipe contains a technique that can be applied to other vegetables. His insistance on not stirring the mushrooms too soon is not strong enough.

Chiarello’s recipe:

6 T extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 lbs fresh button mushrooms, halved if large or left whole if small

2 T unsalted butter

Sea salt, preferably gray salt, and freshly ground pepper

1 T minced garlic

1 1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme

1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 T chopped fresh Italian parlsey

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, sprinkle in the mushrooms in a single layer. Don’t stir! Let them sizzle until theyt have caramelized on the bottom, about 2 minutes. If you toss them too soon, they will release their liquid and begin to steam. When the bottoms are caramelized, toss the mushrooms and continue to cook over high heat for about 5 minutes. Drain the mushrooms in a sieve and discard the excess oil.

Return the mushrooms to the skillet and add the butter. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are beautifully browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the garlic. Sauté until the garlic is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the thyme and lemon juice and cook until the liquid evaporates. Add the wine, reduce the heat slightly, and simmer until the mushrooms are glazed with the sauce. Add the parsley, transfer to a warmed bowl, and serve immediately.

How I make it:

Every time I’ve made this, I’ve worried initially about having a large enough skillet. Tonight, I’ve stopped sweating it. One of my favorite cooking pans is a cheap nonstick 12-inch fry pan that Patrice bought me several years ago at Dansk. I swear it’s as good as my All-Clad Stainless sauté pan. Go figure. My cheap pan performs beautifully when I want to caramelize mushrooms or onions. If something goes wrong, it’s human error. Not the pan.

I don’t know how hot your range burns, but mine is decent (GE Monogram series). Still, the cooking times in this recipes are underreported. To caramelize the mushrooms, I found 3-4 minutes worked better. Tack on a few minutes to each stage of the recipe and you’ll do fine.

I didn’t use sea salt. Ever since I got home from London in January, I’ve been experimenting with Maldon salt, which I find to be very salty, at least more salty than the Diamond Crystal kosher salt I generally use. It’s hard to oversalt mushrooms. They suck it up.

If I serve this recipe, as Chiarello recommends, then I reduce the wine as much as he instructs. But, like tonight, if I’m inclined to serve it over pasta, then I cut the reduction time in half. I want more sauce. And I don’t reduce the heat when I reduce the wine, as he also recommends. NO CHEESE, if you serve it over pasta. The point will be entirely lost.

Last Thoughts:

Chiarello’s book is very good for basic techniques, like the caramelizing in this one. He’s taught me a bit of patience. I let mushrooms and onions sit frying in oil or butter longer in order to achieve those crisp edges I like. This technique is only dangerous for those who like to step away from the stove and not think about what’s happening back there. If you stay close and keep an eye on your skillet, it’s worth experimenting with caramelization. A final thought along those lines: mushrooms can stand caramelization at a high temperature; onions deserve a lower heat and longer time to caramelize. Let them be.