Mushrooms are available all year round and are a healthy and delicious hero ingredient or accompaniment.
Mushrooms are available year round and are a healthy and delicious hero ingredient or accompaniment.
Ihave happy childhood memories of feasting on rich, dark mushrooms, which were piled onto buttery toast for Sunday night supper, or, occasionally, cooked up for breakfast and served with crisp bacon, fried eggs and grilled tomatoes. We gathered the mushrooms in autumn when they popped up in the damp fields of the Māngere farm of my parents’ friends. Those early-morning outings were a mystery to me, for I could never find a single mushroom, yet my mother would manage to fill a whole basket.
By the time I became a cook, cultivated mushrooms were readily available at greengrocers. Mushrooms, however, are not vegetables; they belong to the fungi family and, apart from the ones that pop up on my lawn in autumn, almost all the mushrooms we eat are grown in sterile atmosphere-controlled conditions in large purpose-built sheds and are available all year round. They sprout in natural compost that has been inoculated with mycelium spores.
We are generally offered only two or three varieties of mushroom in New Zealand supermarkets – white, brown, shiitake, and very occasionally, oyster. However, there are hundreds of varieties of edible mushrooms around the world. A few decades ago, I visited an experimental programme run by what was then the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in Auckland, to see the incredible array of edible fungi that could be cultivated. Thankfully, some of those species are now found in speciality greengrocers and supermarkets as mixed packets of exotic Asian mushrooms.
The white button mushroom ( agaricus bisporus) is our most common and popular mushroom. When buying them, look for a tightly closed pure-white cap. Fresh mushrooms should feel very firm and almost squeaky when the surface is rubbed lightly. As the button mushroom grows, its cap spreads out and you can see the gills underneath. These mushrooms are equally good, but when fresh, their underside should be pink, not dark brown.
The light-brown version of the button mushroom is commonly called a swiss brown. As they grow and open up, they are known as portobellos and are popular for grilling and serving as a substitute for steak, or as a part of a cafe big breakfast.
One of this week’s recipes includes fresh shiitakes, but other mushrooms can be used as they are often hard to find. The best fresh shiitakes I have found were at farmers’ markets in Auckland’s Parnell, Christchurch and Nelson. Grab them if you see them.
CHICKEN BREAST WITH SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS, ASPARAGUS AND GINGER
2 chicken breasts, skin on
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil pinch of red chilli flakes salt flakes
1½ cups baby perla potatoes 200g fresh shiitake mushrooms 300g asparagus spears
½ cup podded fresh broad beans 6 thin slices fresh ginger ½ cup chicken stock freshly ground black pepper small bunch of mint
Place the chicken on a plate and rub with half the oil. Sprinkle over the chilli flakes and salt, toss well to coat then cover and set aside on the bench.
Scrub the potatoes, halving ones that are larger than bite-sized. Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and plunge in the potatoes. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 12 minutes until tender.
Slice the mushrooms or cut in half if they are small. Trim the asparagus and cut each spear into 6cm lengths.
Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and plunge in the broad beans for 1 minute. Refresh in ice-cold water then slip off the skins (this is known as double podding – if the broad beans are small or the Evergreen variety, you might not need to).
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy-based frying pan and add the chicken breasts, skin-side down. Cook until golden, then turn over and cook over gentle heat for about 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the ginger and mushrooms in a large saucepan for 1-2 minutes in 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the asparagus and stock and cook for 2
Classic creamy mushrooms on sourdough toast; left, chicken breast with shiitake mushrooms, asparagus and ginger.