Food

Mush­rooms are avail­able all year round and are a healthy and de­li­cious hero in­gre­di­ent or ac­com­pa­ni­ment.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - By Lau­raine Ja­cobs

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.

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