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Category Archives: Italian

Types of Bottled Truffle Produce


I love truffles, they enhance the pleasure of eating for so many different dishes. Unfortunately, it is impractical to keep fresh truffles around at home just so you can shave some onto your food whenever the need arises. That’s not to say truffles can’t be used in home cooking. Bottled or Jarred Truffle Produce can be kept in the fridge for a long time, they capture the aroma and flavor of truffles nicely and there is a variety of such products to choose from, including Truffle Paste, Truffle Sauce, Truffle Cream and Truffle Mustard.     

Rudimentary Naming Conventions for TrufflesTruffle 1000

  1. White Truffle is the more expensive variety, as they can only be found in the wild using specially trained pigs or dogs. The best White Truffles come from Piedmont in Italy. These are also called Summer or Alba Truffles.
  2. Black Truffles are less, but still expensive. They cost less as they can be cultivated, albeit with some effort. It’s debatable if they are really inferior to the White Truffle. Maybe they cost less simply because they are more common. The best Black Truffles come from Perigord in France, so Black Truffles are sometimes called Perigord Truffles, and also Winter Truffles.
  3. Both Black and White Truffles can be found beyond the borders of Italy and France, but these are generally considered to be inferior cousins to the Alba and Perigord.
  4. ‘Tartufo’ is Italian for truffle, ‘Tartufi’ the plural and ‘Tartufata’ is Italian for truffle product. If you see any of these on the bottle, it is a product of Italy. ‘Truffe’ is French for truffles. If you see this on the label, this means the bottle is from France.
  5. The truffle percentage content is an indicator of quality, and it varies greatly from product to product. Always determine the country of origin and check the truffle percentage content before buying any bottled truffle produce.

Basic Guidelines for Cooking with Truffles

  1. Heat dissipates the aromatics of truffles and since truffles are 80% aroma and 20% taste, cooking truffles is tantamount to not having truffles in the first place. Thus one only adds the truffles after  the cooking is done.
  2. Truffles go with savoury foods. Macaroni and cheese for example tastes great with truffles. Pasta in a consommé reduction is another viable pairing with truffles. Sour and sweet foods are the opposite. So truffles don’t work with tomato based sauces, vinegar, red wine reductions or anything with fresh or preserved fruits.
  3. Don’t use fragrant ingredients that compete with the truffles for the centre stage. Garlic, raw celery and onions, sardines, smoked meats, blue cheese, BBQ sauce are all foods to avoid with truffles. Mild foods on the other hand serve as the perfect medium for truffles. Some examples are scrambled, steamed or poached eggs, butter, brioche, mushrooms, potatoes and cream soups.

Truffle Paste (Pate)Truffle Pate

This is bottled truffle produce of the highest quality and needless to say it is also the most expensive. According to the label at the back of the jar, it is 70% truffles by weight with the remainder being mostly olive oil and truffle juice. Truffle Paste has the most intense aroma, and luxurious taste and texture.

As you might expect something this expensive would be from France and will usually contain the phrase ‘Pâte de Truffe’ on the jar. Actually it is not really a paste, but more a suspension of truffle bits in oil. Do not get misled by the term pâte, pâte does not need to contain foie gras or liver; this is pâte made from truffles.

Use this when the truffle is meant to be a topping, akin to caviar, say like when served on a blini. In other words your intention is to taste the truffle directly in a concentrated dose, as opposed to mixing it into some food. Of course if cost is of no concern to you, then use it all the time by all means.

Truffle Sauce (Salsa)Truffle Salsa

Truffle Sauce is a less concentrated version of bottled truffle more suitable for every day use and gram for gram it is perhaps only a tenth of the price of Truffle Paste. It is more common in Italy, and the label will usually say “Salsa Tartufata” or “Salsa di Tartufo”, but not always. Sometimes it is also ‘mislabelled’ as a pate (see the top picture, a truffle pate from Italy is actually a sauce). Typically the truffle content of Truffle Sauce is somewhere in the 3-5% region, with most of the rest of the solids in the bottle being minced mushrooms. Don’t look down on Truffle Sauce, it still packs a punch with its truffle aroma.

If you are stirring truffle into your scrambled eggs, pasta or a cream of mushroom soup, this is probably the type of truffle product you’d use. I also use for truffle mayonnaise. Truffle Sauce is also an ideal gift to bring to a casual home dinner, instead of that boring bottle of wine.

Truffle CreamTruffle Cream

Truffle Cream is in the same quality category as Truffle Sauce and also tends to be an Italian product. The truffle content will be around the same, that is to say 3-5%, but it is typically (but not always) light coloured and has a more creamy texture. In Italian the label is similar to Truffle Sauce except the word ‘Salsa’ is replaced with ‘Sapor’ or ‘Crema’. ‘Sapor’ means flavour or taste. You are also more likely to see labels in plain English as it is produced in various Commonwealth countries too. Unlike Truffle Paste and Sauce, Truffle Cream contains more than just truffles, mushrooms and oil. If you have a look at the nutrition information you’ll see additional ingredients like vegetable extracts, herbs, spices and emulsifiers.

One of the best ways to use Truffle Cream is to mix it into a cream sauce like hollandaise or béarnaise. Another is mashed potatoes. In general, the time to use Truffle Cream is with light coloured food. This way you get the taste and aroma of truffles but not dark flecks of truffle, and your guests will be pleasantly surprised.

Truffle MustardTruffle Mustard

The truffle content of Truffle Mustard is usually not stated but I can’t imagine it to be much given its price. Its even cheaper than Truffle Sauce and Cream. It tends to be French in origin and the label might say something like ‘Moutarde a la Truffe’.

This type of truffle product is best just as a condiment with steak, roast pork and game birds. Not so much with lamb or chicken. Basically it as a really expensive mustard, so use it as such.

Truffle Oil

Truffle Oil is the least desirable kind of truffle product and I really don’t recommend it, which is why I don’t have any on hand to take a photo of. I suppose you could use it for salads. It contains very little truffle and is not value for money. If you insist on buying Truffle Oil look for bottles with a few flakes of truffle in them for many actually contain no truffle at all and are purely artificially flavoured.

Please note I am not endorsing any of the brands featured here. These bottles are just what I happened to have in the fridge at the time.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2016 in French, Ingredients, Italian

 

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Eggs Scrambled with Truffle and Morels


(serves 3-4)
Scrambled Eggs are quite mild in flavour but have a nice runny texture when cooked properly. They go well with Truffles as they don’t compete with the intense aroma of Truffles. They also go great with Morel Mushrooms which complement the eggs with a delicate yet distinct flavour. Put all three together and you have the perfect food to satisfy the most refined palate.
Scrambled Eggs is one of the fastest and easiest appetizers to make once you have mastered the technique, and if you are planning a long formal dinner, this dish will afford you the time to focus on your other courses.  

IngredientsScrambled Eggs 1000

  1. Eggs (4 Large)
  2. Truffle and Mushroom Salsa (5t)
  3. Milk (200 ml)
  4. Dried Morel (15g)
  5. Butter
  6. Coriander Seed Powder

Preparation

  1. Soak the Morel Mushroom in the milk for at least one hour. You can also soak it overnight in the fridge. 15g of dried morels is about 1 cup in volume.
  2. Beat 4 large eggs in a bowl.
  3. Strain the morel-flavoured milk into the eggs. Lightly squeeze the morels caught in the strainer to release more liquid.
  4. Add a pinch of salt to egg-milk mixture and beat until you have a consistent colour.
  5. Melt 2T of butter in a pan. Pan fry the morels for 1 minute. Turn off the heat.
  6. Pick out the morels and keep them for later use. Sprinkle 0.5t of coriander seed powder into the butter left in the pan.
  7. Add the egg mixture to the pan and begin cooking with very low heat. Keep stirring to constantly remove any cooked films of egg from the bottom of the pan.
  8. When you see the egg doesn’t flow to fill up any spaces made empty by your stirring, turn off the fire immediately. Add a light sprinkle of white pepper and 2t of truffle salsa and continue to stir until the pan cools a bit more.
  9. Plate the scrambled eggs, arranging the morel mushrooms on top. You can use either a soup dish or a martini glass. Top off with 1 addition t of truffle salsa for each serving.

 Notes

  • You can also use Truffle Paste instead of Truffle Salsa if you like. For more information on Bottled Truffle Produce check out my Truffle Products page .
  • You need to stir with an implement that has a flat edge, such as a flat wooden spatula. Don’t use anything rounded as you won’t be able to scrape the cooked egg off the pan bottom.
  • You cannot add pepper or coriander seed powder to the raw egg mixture directly as it will tend to clump together immediately. Salt is ok as it melts.
  • The place where the amateur typically fails in this dish is over cooking their scrambled eggs. They have to be cooked until they have the consistency of semi-melted ice cream and no further. If the egg clumps together into clean pieces, its over done. If you have a problem keeping the heat down, you can intermittently turn the heat off to control the cooking process better.  
 
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Posted by on October 26, 2016 in Appetizers, Italian, Recipe

 

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Lamb Sausage Ragu with Conchiglie


(serves 3)
This is a speedy (relatively) and convenient method of making a Lamb Ragu Pasta that makes no compromises on taste. I avoid the arduous task of slow-cooking mutton by using the minced meat from lamb sausages. In fact I find the starch, fat, herbs and spices of the sausage actually make for a better pasta sauce. The result is a delicious wholesome and flavourful meat sauce that can’t be beat.
 
Ingredients Lamb Conchiglie 1200
  1. Lamg Sausage (350g)
  2. Brown or White Mushrooms (100g)
  3. Onion (1)
  4. Garlic(1 bulb = 12 cloves)
  5. Conchiglie (3 cups)
  6. Oxo Stock Cube (2)
  7. Red Wine (1 cup)
  8. Turmeric
  9. Coriander Seed Powder
  10. Oregano

Preparation

  1. Peel and then cut your onion into 6 wedges. Then slice them coarsely and pan fry in a large pan with some oil on low heat.
  2. In the meanwhile, slice your lamb sausages lengthwise on one side and peel off the skin. Place all the minced lamb in a bowl with half a cup of water. Mix well to loosen up the meat.
  3. Remove the onion from the pan, turn up the heat, add some oil and throw in the meat. Break up the clumps of meat as the water boils away. When the meat begins to brown, return the onion plus any drippings to the pan and continue stir-frying for another minute.
  4. Next add 1 cup of wine. Then add 2 oxo stock cubes (I normally use beef but you can also use lamb) dissolved in 2 cups of hot water.
  5. Peel your garlic bulb and throw the individual cloves into the pan. Quarter each mushroom into and add them to the pan as well.
  6. Add 1t sugar, 1t turmeric, 1t coriander seed powder and 1T oregano. Turn down the heat and simmer covered for 45 minutes to1 hour – until the sour taste of the wine is gone. Add water as needed such that you end up with a light sauce. You can make the sauce ahead of time, just keep it in the fridge til its needed.
  7. Boil your pasta in a pot of water with a dash of olive oil until it is about 2/3 cooked. Strain and then add your pasta to the pan and stir fry until the pasta is al dente. Add water as required such that you end up with a thick sauce just as the pasta is done. Splash on 4T of olive oil after turning the fire off.
  8. Sprinkle on some black pepper and perhaps some parsley after plating.

Notes

  • You can use 3/4 cup red wine plus 1/4 cup Marsala wine for a more authentic Italian taste – remember to skip the 1t of sugar in step 6.
  • Conchiglie a.k.a. seashell pasta is the best choice of pasta for this kind of sauce as it can hold the bits of meat better. Another type of paste suitable for this dish is farfalle, a.k.a. butterfuly pasta.
  • The picture would look nicer if I had just cooked the pasta separately and then poured the sauce over it, but then it wouldn’t taste nearly as good. Sometimes you have to sacrifice looks for taste.
  • Ragu and Ragout are both a dish made from gamey meat and chopped vegetables. Ragu is Italian and is usually cooked as a sauce. Ragout is French and is usually a stew.
 
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Posted by on July 18, 2016 in Italian, Main Courses, Pasta, Recipe, Red Meat

 

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Japanese Wafu-Style Orzo


(serves 3)
How does one cook a light pasta that still tastes good? For the answer we have to look not to Italy, but to the Far East where the Japanese have developed Wafu Cuisine, a style incorporating the best of Japanese and Western cooking. Miraculously, my Wafu Pasta recipe is not based on cream, cheese or oil, yet it’s still delicious and satiating. You will find this Italy meets Japan recipe great for the formal dinner table but also perfect for those times when you just want to have dinner on the sofa.      
 

Ingredients Wafu Orzo

  1. Scallops (12=200g)
  2. Shaved Ham (100g)
  3. Mushrooms (100g)
  4. Corn (1 ear)
  5. Scallion (4 sprigs)
  6. Orzo a.k.a. Risoni (200g)
  7. Miso
  8. Butter
  9. Sesame Oil
  10. Sherry

Preparation 

  1. Slice each scallop into 3 discs. Marinate them in a mixture of 1T of sesame oil and a flat 0.5t of salt.
  2. Cut the mushrooms into thin slices. Any kind of brown or white mushrooms will do. If they are large, cut them in half before slicing.
  3. Julienne the bottom 1/4 (white) of the scallion into one bowl and the second 1/4 (green) into a separate bowl. Discard the remaining tips.
  4. Cut the ham into small pieces. Brine soaked pre-sliced ham, the type that is sold for sandwiches, has the texture best suited for the Wafu style.
  5. Shave the corn kernels into a bowl. Retail the cob.
  6. Fry the white scallion bits with1T of sesame oil in a pan. When the scallion begins to brown, add the shaved ham. Continue to stir fry for a minute. Mix 1 heaped t of miso with 1T sherry and add this to the pan followed by 1 cup of water. You now have a ham and scallion miso soup base.
  7. While the mixture is simmering, rinse 200g or orzo in boiling water and then add the orzo to the pan, followed by the corn kernels and mushroom. Scrape the cob with the back of a knife blade over the pan. Leave uncovered on a low simmer.
  8. In the meanwhile melt a large knob of butter in a second pan over high heat. When the butter browns add the scallops. Stir fry for thirty seconds and then turn off the heat. Immediately add a second large knob of butter to cool the pan.
  9. When the liquid in the first pan thickens, test the texture of the orzo. If it is still hard, add 1/4 cup of hot water and continue simmering. Repeat until the orzo is just right, then pour the scallops and butter into the pan and mix well.
  10. Spoon the orzo into your serving dishes. Dust with black pepper and garnish with the green scallion bits.

Notes

  • I suppose I should start off by explaining what the Japanese Wafu-style is. It translates as ‘Winds in Harmony’ and refers to the way the Japanese prepare Western dishes to suit local tastes. Its a style of cooking that developed gradually after WWII and has now become immensely popular in family restaurants in Japan. You could go as far as to say it is a type of fusion cuisine. Salad dressing containing soya sauce, yozu or sesame oil and mayonnaise containing wasabi are both examples of Wafu.   
  • One important aspect of Wafu cooking is it tends to be balanced with delicate flavours. If you want to stay true to the Wafu style, stay away from strong tasting ingredients like garlic, olive oil, bacon, blue cheese. A little cream is ok, but not too much. 
  • This is quite a flexible recipe and you can substitute a number of ingredients to create many different varieties of the pasta. You could for example swap the corn for baby asparagus (you might want to add a bit of sugar though), the shaved ham for smoked turkey or the scallop for clams.
  • The prime flavour for the sauce is Miso. For more information on Miso, refer to this page
 

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Spaghetti with Seafood in Miso Cream Sauce


(serves 3 full portions)
Spaghetti in Miso Cream is quite the quintessential Japanese pasta and is on the menu in family restaurant chains all over Japan. You will find the fusion-style dish a refreshing adaptation of the more traditional pasta sauces. This recipe is a special version of the dish with crustacean flavour infused into the miso cream. To accompany the pasta, I have used soft tender scallop slices and lightly cooked morsels of prawn.    
 

Ingredients Miso Pasta

  1. Scallops (8=150g)
  2. Large prawns (4=300g)
  3. Miso
  4. Crushed Garlic (4t)
  5. Sesame Oil (1/3 cup)
  6. Cream (100ml)
  7. Spaghetti (300g)
  8. Shredded Nori (Dried Seaweed)
  9. Coriander Seed Powder
  10. Honey
  11. Cognac

Preparation 

  1. Mix 4T of sesame oil with 0.5t salt, 1t coriander seed powder.
  2. Cut the heads off the prawns and stir fry the heads in a pot with a few dashes of oil and 2t of crushed garlic. Use a low flame and when the garlic begins to brown add 1.5 cups of water. Cut the heads up with a pair of scissors while they are in the pot and leave to simmer. You should end up with a rich red broth.
  3. Slice each scallop into 3 round slices.
  4. Shell and devein the prawns. Slice the prawns lengthwise into 2 and then into small pieces.
  5. Marinate both the scallop and prawn pieces with the salted sesame oil but in separate bowls.
  6. Mix together 2 heaped t of miso with 2t of crushed garlic. Fry this mixture in a pan with 3T of oil on low heat. After a minute, add 3T cognac and 1t honey.
  7. Slowly pour in 100 ml of cream and mash the miso till you get a nice even emulsion with no lumps. Pour in the prawn head stock through a strainer. Simmer down till you get a nice sauce and remove from heat.
  8. Put 300g of spaghetti into the pot of boiling water with 1t salt and a dash of oil.
  9. Reheat the sauce and when it is boiling add the prawn meat. When the prawn meat has curled, add the scallop slices and immediately turn off the fire. Mix well to make sure no scallop slices are stuck together and leave for a minute.
  10. By this time the pasta should be al dente. Strain and plate the spaghetti, and pour the sauce over it.
  11. Garnish with black pepper, some Nori and serve.

NotesPrawn Stock

  • If you want to go the extra mile, add Uni (raw sea urchin) together with the scallops into the pan in step 9. It is the Japanese equivalent of adding truffle shavings to a pasta.
  • The stock will not be red (see photo) or have a rich taste if you use small prawns or shrimp. The prawns have to be large, i.e. 4 per 300g. 
  • Most of the greyish stuff in the ‘spine’ of the prawn is roe. When deveining the prawn, you really only want to find and pull out the alimentary canal. 
  • You’ll notice I did not mention olive oil. The taste of miso is quite distinctive and will clash with the hint of olives. You’ll do better with a milder vegetable oil.
  • Reduce the amount of cream by half if you want a very light sauce.
  • For more information on Miso, refer to this page
 

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Risotto Carbonara


(serves 3)
Here we have an unusual flavour for risotto, the trademark combination of pancetta, parmigiano and raw egg yolk known as Carbonara.
 Arborio rice is a good deal more starchy than pasta so its not as simple as making a carbonara sauce and pouring it over cooked rice. We also desire some bits of other crunchy morsels in the rice to give our risotto a bit more textural variety. Therefore I’ve had to improvise with some other additional ingredients…
 
Ingredients Risotto Carbonara
  1. Cubed Pancetta (300g)
  2. Luncheon Meat (200g)
  3. Bacon (3 slices)
  4. Arborio Rice (1 cup)
  5. Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/4 cup)
  6. Onion (1)
  7. Spring Onion (8 stalks)
  8. Mushrooms (100g)
  9. Butter (40g)
  10. Eggs (2)
  11. Cream (1/2 cup)
  12. Basil
  13. Brandy
  14. Turmeric

Preparation

  1. Start with the stock first. Cut the luncheon meat into 1cm cubes and boil them in 4 cups of water. When the water is boiling, add 3 slices of bacon, 4 stalks of spring onion and 1 flat t of turmeric. Simmer for 1 hour.
  2. While the simmering is going on, fry 300g of cubed pancetta on low heat in a pan. While the pancetta is being fried (you only need to move it occasionally), dice 1 onion finely.
  3. When the lard has been melted off the pancetta, remove the bits of meat, leaving the oil in the pan. Stir fry the onion bit over a low flame in this oil till they begin to caramelize.
  4. Next, add 1 cup of Arborio rice to the pan and continue to stir fry for 5 minutes and then turn off the heat.
  5. Cut the remaining spring onion into small bits, keeping the bits from the bottom half separate from the bits from the top half. Also, slice your mushrooms, and grate 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Mix the cheese with 30g of diced butter.
  6. By this time, the 1 hour on the stock to be up. Keep the fire going under the stock. Reheat the pan on low heat and then ladle some of the boiling stock (liquid only, not the solids) into the rice. Keep the pan on a low simmer, stirring occasionally. Add more stock whenever the rice begins to dry. Add more water to the stock pot when that begins to dry up.
  7. After 20 minutes, add 1/4 cup cream, 3T of brandy and 1t of sugar. Then mix in the mushroom slices, 1T of chopped basil and the white portion of the chopped spring onions.
  8. Soon thereafter the rice will get to the al dente stage. At that time turn off the heat and add another 1/4 cup of cream, 2 egg yolks, the pancetta bits and the cheese-butter mixture. Give everything a thorough mixing and keep covered for 10 minutes while the rice fluffs up.
  9. You shouldn’t need to add any salt but taste for saltiness anyway, just in case. Plate and serve immediately after the 10 minutes is up. Sprinkle on some black pepper and use the remaining green part of the chopped spring onions as garnishing.

Notes

  • If you are making risotto for the first time, refer to this earlier recipe for more details on risotto making.
  • If you like Carbonara, you might be interested in my Lagsana Carbonara or Fettucine Carbonara recipes.
  • I normally don’t add cream to my risotto, but this is a Cabonara after all.
  • For this recipe both the smoked or sweetened pancetta varieties are suitable.  
 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in A Kobi Original, Italian, Main Courses, Recipe

 

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The Dried Mushrooms Page


Dried Mushrooms are considered to be delicacies around the world. They are one of the few classes of food that actually taste better after preservation. It’s very easy to bring dried mushrooms back to life, you simply have to soak them in water. Originally mushrooms were only dried as a means of preserving them but today dried mushrooms have become a culinary class in their own right. They are indispensable in certain recipes where fresh mushrooms simply can’t do the job. In this post I will cover the gourmet dried mushroom varieties, namely: Morel, Porcini and Shiitake.

There are three reasons why dried mushrooms are prized in the kitchen. Firstly, the dessication process somehow transforms the slightly bitter taste of mushrooms into a nice umami flavour, that fifth taste which tricks the brain into thinking there is meat present. The taste and aroma of the mushrooms is also intensified. This makes dried mushrooms great for vegetarian dishes. Secondly, a by-product of using dried mushrooms is the tasty soaking liquid which can be used to flavour soup, rice, batter, pasta or anything else that requires water. Thirdly, specific taste can also be infused directly into dried mushrooms by adding herbs, sugar, soya sauce, mirin or whatever else you fancy to the water the mushrooms are soaked in.

Once the packaging is opened, extend the life of your dried mushrooms almost indefinitely by keeping them in the fridge. While they won’t spoil in the fridge, it is still important to store them in air-tight containers as otherwise they will lose their aroma over time.

Hydrating the dried mushrooms properly is important. Give your mushrooms a quick rinse under the tap before soaking. Always soak your dried mushrooms in cool water to make the rehydration process as gentle as possible. Hot water may work faster, but it makes the mushroom flesh tougher than it needs to be. It goes without saying; never just throw dried mushrooms into a boiling pot. Twenty minutes of soaking time should do for most varieties. Don’t use too much water or the soaking liquid will get too diluted; if your mushrooms go up to the 1/2 cup mark, add water to the 3/4 cup level.  After the mushrooms have become thoroughly soaked and supple, you can use most of the soaking liquid for cooking but discard the last bit at the bottom of the bowl that contains the sediments. 

Dried Morel Dried Morel Mushrooms
Morel mushrooms are the undisputed King of Dried Mushrooms. This fact is reflected in their price; they tend to cost anywhere from 4 to 6 times more than other types of premium dried mushrooms. There is no such thing as cheap morel. Because they are expensive, you should beware of fakes. Some growers appear to offer cheaper produce but only because they purposely leave on too much of the stem to increase the gross weight. The bottom of the stem is leafy and must be trimmed off. Charlatans will even sometimes try to substitute morels with similar shaped mushrooms. The real McCoy has a honeycomb type lattice laced all over a yellowish brown cone shaped cap. The fakes are easily recognized once you see their skin is wrinkled and not honeycombed.

I would describe the taste of rehydrated Morel mushrooms as nutty, meaty and slightly sweet. Darker morels are more valuable as they have a stronger taste and fragrance. Morel mushrooms are a kind of sponge mushrooms and after they are soaked, it is important to squeeze them dry. This spongy quality also allows them to absorb a generous amount of whatever sauce they are cooked in, which is later released with every bite.

Morels go extremely well with butter and one of the best ways to cook them is to sauté them in butter with a pinch of salt. You would normally serve them with roasted or pan-fried chicken, pork or veal dishes, pretty much anything that goes with white wine. Stronger meats may overwhelm its delicate taste. I will sometimes add sautéed morel to my mushroom soup in lieu of truffle. As morels have a crispier meatier texture than most mushrooms, they also go well with certain pureed foods like Cauliflower Puree. Morels are most often used in French cooking and morel sauce is one of the key sauces in any French kitchen. The sauce is made by blending butter sautéed mushrooms with their soaking liquid, white wine and cream followed by simmering.

Dried Porcini Dried Porcini Mushrooms
If there is a King of Dried Mushrooms, then there should be a Queen and this would be the Porcini mushroom. Unlike Morels, Porcini are always dried in slices but you can get a pretty good idea of what a whole mushroom is like by looking at the nice cross section of the Porcini on the left side of the photo. One distinct feature of Porcini mushrooms is they have no gills. They also have a long fleshy stem which is as edible as the large brown cap.

I would describe the taste of rehydrated Porcini as slightly salty, smoky and meaty. They exude an intense heavenly aroma like no other mushroom. After your first whiff, you’ll easily recognize its signature smell. One nice thing about Porcini is it remains nice and soft after rehydration.

Porcini is common in Italian cuisine and it is the key ingredient in some Porcini-based risottos. Generally the soaking liquid is used in place of wine when simmering the risotto and its concentration by boiling off most of the water results in a very distinct porcini taste. They are also used to flavour polenta for the same reason. Because of their concentrated flavour, you’d normally serve Porcini with beef, lamb and wild game, anything that goes with red wine. They are often used in ragout, sauces and gravies. Slices of porcini also go well with salads, especially if you add some soaking liquid to the dressing. 

Dried Shiitake Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
The Shiitake (pronounced She-E-Tah-Kay) is the predominant gourmet dried mushroom in the Far East. It is the most popular mushroom in Japan where its Western name is derived. In China it is called the winter mushroom, a reference to the past when fresh mushrooms were not available in winter. It is always dried whole and if you see any sliced shiitake at the store, these are of an inferior grade.

As Shiitake are bulkier, they will take a longer time (I’d say 45 min) to get thoroughly soaked. You would normally quarter, slice or even dice Shiitake after they have been soaked. The stem of the Shiitake is quite woody and is always removed. As they are very hard, you cannot remove the stem before soaking. But you don’t want to wait til after soaking because then the part of the cap attached to the stem will still be hard. Snip them off completely with scissors when the mushrooms are partially soaked. If don’t like to waste, use the stems when boiling stock.

Shiitake have a less distinctive taste and fragrance than its Western counterparts above. I’d describe its taste and aroma simply as a very interesting earthy mushroom flavour. It is a common practice to put soya sauce, sugar or other similar seasoning items into the soaking liquid, so the shiitake gets additional layers of taste. The rehydrated Shiitake mushrooms have a firmer, I would even describe it as plump consistency compared to their limply fresh cousins and they are prized as much for their texture as their taste. They stay that way even if you cook them for a long time.

While Morel and Porcini are wild mushrooms, Shiitake are cultivated. This means they are readily available in both fresh and dried forms, which introduces the complication of when the fresh ones should be used and when the dried ones are more appropriate. For example, dried Shiitake would be used in rice-meat combination dishes (Chinese Claypot Rice and Japanese Oyakodon) while fresh Shiitake would be battered and deep fried (like Western stuffed mushrooms). It’s too complicated to get into the details here, just apply common sense. In Western style dishes, you can use them when braising meat, in terrines etc.

Dried Chanterelle Dried Chanterelle Mushrooms
Including Chanterelle in this post was an afterthought. I’m not really a big fan of this type of dried mushroom but I just happened to have some in the fridge.

Chanterelle is one of those dried mushrooms which I find have a milder flavour. It is light coloured and is sometimes called Golden or Yellow Chanterelle. You can recognize them by their small size and trumpet shape. Its aroma has been described as fruity and its taste as peppery but I don’t really discern too much beyond the ordinary mushroom taste and smell. I’m one of those that believe dried mushrooms have to be dark coloured to give an interesting flavour; if not it might be better to leave them fresh.

The main reason I don’t use dried Chanterelle much is they have a tendency to be fibrous and chewy so I use them mostly in situations where I cook them to death, like in stews and pie fillings. There is a school of thought that you should cook them lightly instead (like steak) but if that works, I haven’t experienced it. Maybe those guys were referring to fresh Chanterelle? One day I’m going to try soaking my dired Chanterelle in chicken stock to see if they end up tasting like shredded chicken breast.

Notes Porcini Stock Cubes

  • If you really want something convenient, you can try the Porcini stock cubes by Knorr. They contain little flakes of Porcini and are great as the stock cube for cream of mushroom soup or risotto.
  • Porcini is also sold in powder form, which is simply dried Porcini ground into powder. Use Porcini powder if you want to enhance flavour (its not a bad substitute for MSG) without imparting a Porcini-specific taste.
 
 

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