Monday, October 24, 2011

Delicious Mushrooms

I love mushrooms.  Really, they are one of my most favorite foods.  They are also kind of baffling to me.  With so many kinds, and so many more kinds that will make you violently ill, and not any real obvious distinguishing features between the two, I have to wonder who first decided that this thing growing out of rotted wood or damp soil was good to eat.

I'm very thankful they did, though.

Needless to say, I probably will not engage in much mushrooming.  I like to be outdoors, and the thought of finding my own mushrooms and getting them for free is an intriguing one.  On the other hand, I really like my stomach lining and don't want to see it melt away.  Seriously.  A quick Wikipedia search tells me that possible consequences of eating wild mushrooms that have been incorrectly identified as edible include: liver damage, kidney failure, respiratory failure, neurotoxicity, destruction of blood cells, loss of limbs, and death.

Yes, $20 to $50 a pound for mushrooms may seem like a lot to some people, but it seems a perfectly reasonable price to pay to avoid loss of limbs and death. 

(Side note: a search for "negative consequences of mushrooms" is not a good search to do at work.  Mostly it is tips to avoid a bad trip!)

Last week was the last week at the South Shore Farmer's Market.  It makes me sad, because that market is so close to my house.  That means two weeks of the West Alis Farmer's Market, which frankly is too busy and makes me crabby, and then on to the Winter Farmer's Market at State Fair Park.  My mushroom guy does go to the Winter Market, and his company is at the Stalis Market, but he's not there and he's fun.

So, to mourn the last day of the SS Market, I decided to treat myself.

Hen of the woods!  Otherwise known as the Maitake mushroom.

Okay, let's be honest.  I probably would have "treated" myself had it been the last day or not.  I can't turn down a good fancy mushroom.

I'm not sure I've had hen of the woods before, but I haven't had a mushroom I didn't like yet.  The texture of the hen of the woods was firm, almost even chewy.  I ended up cooking them much longer than I would cook a regular mushroom, which did help them to get very tender.  The taste was very meaty and earthy, and I was actually disappointed that I made them in a chicken recipe - since I thought the flavor overwhelmed the chicken a bit.  It probably would have been just as good had I totally omitted the chicken from this recipe - which would have saved some money too.

That's not to say that this was not good.  In fact, it was excellent, however I think it would have been just as good without the chicken.  I left the Hen of the Woods in pretty large strips, so they did seem like additional meat.

Wild Mushroom Chicken Marsala
Modified from The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Chicken
Serves two with a good amount of leftovers for the next day

  • Two boneless skinless chicken breasts (L)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup flour (L)
  • 4 tbsp butter, divided (L)
  • 1 lb total mixed wild mushrooms - I used about 1/2 lb Hen of the Woods, and the rest was cremini, shiitake, and oyster (L)
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped shallot (L)
  • 2 minced garlic cloves (L)
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock (L)
  • Garlic Mashed potatoes (L)
 Cut the chicken breasts in half laterally, so you each breast half becomes two thin fillets.  Alternately, or if you have thinner breasts, you can use four half breasts, pounded to an even thickness.

Season the flour well with salt and pepper, then dredge each chicken fillet in the flour, shaking of any excess.

In a large frying pan, heat 2 tbsp butter over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken breasts and cook, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides - about 3 to 4 minutes per side.  Transfer to a platter and cover to keep warm.

In the same pan over medium heat, melt the remaining butter.  Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms release their liquid and the liquid evaporates.  If I had it to do again, I would add the hen of the woods first and cook those down before adding the others.  Stir in the shallot and garlic, and cook until softened - about 2 minutes.  Add the Marsala, raise the heat to medium high, and boil for 30 seconds.  Add the stock and return to a low simmer.

Add the chicken back into the pan, burring it under the mushrooms as much as possible.  Cover, and allow to cook at a very low simmer until the chicken is cooked through - about 5 more minutes.  Season the sauce with salt and pepper, and serve over garlic mashed potatoes.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes:

  • 3-4 large Yukon Gold potatoes (about 2 lbs), peeled and cut into thin slices (L)
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled but whole (L)
  • 2-3 tbsp heavy cream (L)
  • 3-4 (or more) tbsp butter (L) 
  • salt and pepper to taste
Place potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water.  Add a good amount of salt and the garlic cloves.  Bring to a low boil, and continue to cook, boiling, until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork (note, the smaller the pieces are the quicker this will happen!)   Drain the potatoes, retaining the garlic cloves.  Return potatoes and garlic to the pot.  Add butter and milk, and mash to desired smoothness (I like chunky mashed potatoes).  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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