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Slow Cooked Beef Shank Kebabs


(serves 4)
This is a very unauthentic recipe for kebabs, but it is however a great way to cook stew-type cuts of beef without actually making a stew. Its actually more of a cross between shish kebab and boeuf bourguignon. I think of it more as a Provencal-style dish than Persian. We start out by making a stew in white wine and end up drying up the stew into a nice tasty glazing for the beef chunks.

Ingredients Beef Kebab

  1. Beef Shank (800g)
  2. Carrot (1 large)
  3. Eggplant (1 large)
  4. Garlic (12 cloves = 1 bulb)
  5. Mushrooms (200g)
  6. Shallots (8)
  7. White Wine (1 cup)
  8. Oxo Beef Cube
  9. Pesto
  10. Oregano
  11. Thyme
  12. flour

Preparation 

  1. Cut your beef into large cubes after removing any chunky bits of connective (white) tissue. Besides using beef shank, other appropriate cuts would be rib fingers, brisket or cheek. Lightly salt the beef.
  2. Preheat your over to 150oC (300oF). Dissolve1 Oxo beef cube in 1.25 cups of hot water.
  3. Peel an entire garlic bulb and put half the cloves through a press. Peel the shallots but keep them whole. Cut the carrots, mushrooms and egg plant into pieces of the appropriate size.
  4. Put the beef cubes into a zip loc bag with 2T(heaped) of flour. Shake the bag until all the surfaces are thoroughly coated.
  5. Heat up a pan with 3T of oil and lightly sear all the sides of the beef cubes. Do this a few pieces at a time.
  6. Place the seared beef into a large pyrex dish, followed by the cut vegetables around the meat. Sprinkle on 2T of oregano and 2T of thyme. If you really want to you can skewer everything on metal skewers first like real kebabs (except for the garlic).
  7. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of white wine. Add the beef stock. Add 2T of pesto and the crushed garlic. Cook for a minute. Pour over the beef and then cover the pyrex baking dish snugly with foil.
  8. Poke 3 small holes in the foil with a toothpick. Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour 40 minutes.
  9. Remove the foil and bake for a further 20 minutes to dry up the liquid and give the beef a nice glaze.

Notes Kebab before oven

  • You may have noticed I did not skewer the kebabs. I usually skip this as its tedious to do the skewering and the un-skewering. 
  •  If you are having a real BBQ, you can throw your pre-cooked kebabs (skewered) over an open flame BBQ to get the charcoal flavour.  
  • If you have a Dutch oven like le Creuset you can use that instead of the pyrex dish. 
 

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Breton Fish Stew (Cotriade)


(serves 6)
This is my version of a classic from Brittany, the fish stew that Breton fishermen enjoy after a hard day at sea, the Cotriade. Unlike the more popular French bouillabaisse which relies on tomatoes and crustaceans for a base flavour, the Bretons prefer their fish stew au natural. Its harder to achieve a flavourful seafood stew that is white but when you do it right, the pure unadulterated flavour of fish makes a world of difference.  

IngredientsContriade

  1. White Fish Fillets (500g)
  2. Black Mussels (500g)
  3. Canned Sardines in oil (2 x 120g wet weight)
  4. Canned Anchovies in oil (50g wet weight)
  5. White Wine (1 cup)
  6. Minced Garlic (3T)
  7. Onions (2)
  8. Celery (2 cups chopped)
  9. Carrot (1)
  10. Bread (3 slices)
  11. Thyme
  12. Dill Weed

Preparation Part I

  1. Leave 3 slices of bread in the open to dry overnight.
  2. Cut the crust off the bread and cube the bread into 1cm pieces. Cut the crust into small pieces as well, but separately. Toast the bread cubes till they are brown and then crush in a zip loc bag with a mallet.
  3. Dice one onion. Place the onion bits into a large pot. Partially open one of the sardine tins and pour its oil into the pot. Turn on the heat and occasionally stir fry the onions.
  4. In the meanwhile, spoon all the sardines and anchovies including their oil into a bowl with 3T of minced garlic. Mash everything up with a spoon.
  5. When the onions are soft, turn up the heat and add the fish and garlic mash. Stir fry for a minute, continuing to mash up the fish. Next, add 1 cup of white wine, wait a further minute and then add 4 cups of water and 2T of chopped thyme. This is the stock for your stew.
  6. While the stock is simmering on low heat, cut an onion into 6 wedges, dice 2 cups of celerey and 3/4 cups of carrot. Add this to the stock together with the bread crumbs.
  7. While the veggies are cooking, soak your mussels in water for a few minutes. Also, cut your white fish into chicken nugget sized pieces. You can leave the skin on. Marinate with 2T of oil and a light sprinkle of salt and pepper. Do not put either the mussels or fish into the pot yet.
  8. Continue the simmer until the onion wedges turn into soft individual petals. Then turn off the heat.

Preparation Part II

  1. This is the part you do about fifteen minutes before serving your stew.
  2. Bring the pot up to a full boil.
  3. Add the clams and continue boiling for 1 minute.
  4. Next add the marinated fish making sure all the pieces are submergedand. Continue boiling for 1 minute (less if you fish pieces are not thick, but never more).
  5. Turn off the heat but leave the pot covered for 10 minutes while the fish continues to cook .
  6. Taste and season with salt and pepper to bring out the full flavour of the stew. Garnish with a sprinkle of dill weed or chopped parsley.

 Notes

  • When I first decided to come up with my own cotriade recipe, I was confronted with a typical dilemma. Fish gets hard and then flakes up if it is boiled for more than a short while. But, any kind of stew needs to be simmered for a long time for it to develop its full flavour. Many fish stew recipes get around this by using tomatoes (or worse bacon) for the base flavour, but that is the easy way out. The solution was to use canned fish and wine to form the base flavour.
  • The next challenge was to get rid of the fishy smell and taste of the canned sardines. After some experimentation, I found that the combination of onions, garlic and deglazing with wine at a high temperature did the trick. When you see the stew frothing up a bit after adding the wine, don’t worry, this is normal. Its just the fishiness going away.
  • The sardine stock in turn allows us to just par boil the fresh fish right at the end, so it remains intact and tender. A fish stew is supposed to have 3 types of fish for variety so I recommend you use 2 types of fresh fish. Cod I find is one of the best choices, and I also like pomfret and sole, but basically any kind of fish white fish would do. The most important thing is to not overcook the fish.
  • Besides tomatoes, the other ingredient I didn’t want to use was potatoes, which would make it more like a chowder (or worse, like beef stew). This presented another problem: how do I give the stew some body? Then I got to thinking, well you eat French stews with bread, so why not just have the bread already boiled into the stew? That worked out well.
  • For the white wine, the oaky tones of a chardonnay is a perfect fit with the stew.
  • If you want a North Sea taste don’t use olive oil as it imparts a Mediterranean feel. I use sardines in sunflower seed oil for this stew.
  • Instead of using salt at the end, consider ‘cheating’ and using Hon Dashi pellets instead. It will bring out the best in your fish stew.
  • If you like French seafood stews, check out my bouillabaisse recipe.  
 
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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in A Kobi Original, French, Recipe, Seafood, Soups

 

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Baked Scallops on Pesto Gratin


(serves 5)
This is my take on the classic French dish, Coquilles Saint Jacques, with an Italian twist. I have devised a quick thrice-baked routine which makes the recipe extremely easy to execute. Scallops have a nice texture but it is hard to infuse flavour into them. One common way to given them additional layers of taste is to use a gratin. This is what I have done, using a simple breadcrumb mixture containing 3 complimentary flavours: garlic, pesto and parmesan.  

IngredientsBaked Scallops

  1. Large Scallops (500g)
  2. Bread (3 slices)
  3. Minced Garlic (3T)
  4. Pesto (3T)
  5. Parmesan (1T)
  6. Olive Oil (1/4 cup)

Preparation

  1. Leave 3 slices of bread in the open to dry overnight.
  2. Cut the crust off the bread and cube the bread into 1cm pieces. Cut the crust into small pieces as well, but separately. 
  3. Pad your scallops dry with a kitchen towel. Cut off the white sliver of flesh where the scallop attaches to the shell if the scallops do not already come processed this way.
  4. In a large mixing bowl mix 3T pesto, 3T minced garlic with 1/4 cup of olive oil.
  5. Spoon 2T of this mixture into the scallops. Add also a light sprinkle of salt and a heavier sprinkle of pepper. Mix well and leave to marinate.
  6. Preheat the oven to 200oC.
  7. Place the bread pieces on a casserole dish and bake in the oven. When the bread is crispy and dry, this will take 5 minutes, take it out of the oven, but leave the oven on.
  8. Allow the bread to cool for a short while on a cool plate. Then smash the bread in a plastic bag with a mallet to turn them into fine crumbs. Add the crumbs into the mixing bowl and sprinkle on 1T of powdered parmesan cheese. Mix well and then put the flavoured crumbs back into the casserole dish and back into the oven, this time for 8 minutes.
  9. When the gratin has formed, take the casserole dish out again, and immediately arrange the marinated scallops into the dish evenly. Spoon any left over marinade onto the scallops. This goes back into the oven for a further six 6 minutes or so, depending on the size of your scallops.
  10. Serve immediately, advising your guests to eat the scallops with the gratin.

Notes 3 Scallops

  • Your scallops should not be too small for this recipe. For 500g, there should be about 15 scallops. I usually just use frozen ones, the higher grade type that comes in a box, not a plastic bag.
  • Scallops should not be overdone. They are best when they have shrunk slightly. Look for the right moment and take them out of the oven immediately. If your scallops have shrunken noticeably, then they are overdone and will be tough and hard.
  • If you wish too, you can re-plate the scallops as shown here.
 
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Posted by on February 9, 2014 in A Kobi Original, Appetizers, French, Recipe, Seafood

 

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Crab and Cheese Faux Soufflé


(serves 6)
This is not a real soufflé as it uses what I call the french toast method, but it is permissible for a savoury dish and it certainly tastes as good as any traditional soufflé made from beaten egg-white. Within each ramekin, there’ll be that heavenly combination of crab meat and 3 different cheeses, melded into a fluffy body of bread and egg; sort of like crab gratin meets bread and butter pudding, only lighter.    

IngredientsCrab and Cheese Soufflé

  1. Cooked Crab Meat (300g)
  2. Capsicum (1)
  3. Onion (1/2)
  4. Diced Bread (4 cups)
  5. Cream (1 cup)
  6. Milk (1 cup)
  7. Eggs (3)
  8. Parmigiano Reggiano (40g)
  9. Cheddar (80g)
  10. Brie (120g)
  11. DIllweed 
  12. Cognac

Preparation

  1. Drain the crab meat and then soak it in a mixture of 1 part brandy to 4 parts water. This will freshen up your crab meat. Make sure you loosen the packed meat so the brandy can permeate faster.
  2. In the meanwhile, julienne half an onion and one capsicum (without the seeds). Dice slices of soft crustless bread until you end up with four cups of loosely packed cubes of bread.
  3. Grate the parmigiano and cheddar. You can mix them together. Dice the Brie but keep it in the fridge to maintain its hardness.
  4. Using a large pan, stir-fry the onion pieces on low heat with a knob of butter till they get limp. Turn up the heat, add a second knob of butter together with the capsicum bits. Stir-fry for one minute.
  5. Drain the crab meat (the second time) and add this to the pan. Continue stir-frying and when the water from the crab has boiled off, add 1/3 cup milk and 1T brandy. Cook for a further minute, then turn off the heat.
  6. Add the diced bread to the frying pan (no heat) and mix until they absorb all the liquid. Sprinkle on the grated cheese, 1T of dillweed and 1t of pepper.
  7. Distribute half the pan’s contents evenly into 6 ramekins. There is no need to brush the inside of the ramekins with butter, this soufflé does not stick. Add the brie piece by piece to ensure even distrubution; they have a tendency to clump together. Top up with the remaining contents of the pan.
  8. Mix half a cup of cream, 0.5t of sugar and three eggs in a large bowl.
  9. In a pot, heat to almost boiling another half cup of the cream and 2/3 cups of milk. Slowly pour this hot half&half into the bowl with the eggs, stirring all the time to make sure the egg doesn’t get cooked. Pour the hot egg mixture into the ramekins and leave to settle for at least half an hour.
  10. Preheat the oven to 180oC (350oF) and bake your soufflés for about 20 minutes. You can see them rise, so its not too dificult to know when they are done.

NotesFive in the Oven

  • I assumed you are using canned crab meat, its the most convenient. If you happen to be are using freshly boiled crab, you can skip the soaking step.
  • I would use either red or orange capsicum (bell pepper). The yellow and green ones do goas well with the soufflé visually. 
  • If this recipe turned out nicely for you, you may want to check out this similar dish, my earlier liver pate souffle recipe.
 
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Posted by on December 9, 2013 in A Kobi Original, Appetizers, French, Recipe

 

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Coq au Vin with Chicken Breasts


(serves 3)
Coq au Vin is a wholesome simmered dish which hails from France. Traditional Coq au Vin recipes typically get you to boil your chicken to death as the flavour of the red wine matures and seeps into the meat. This method doesn’t work too well with chicken breasts which become dry and hard. To keep your chicken breasts tender, you’ll see from the recipe that I’ve taken a different approach. Since the aim is to cook a (more) healthy dish with white meat here, I’ve also factored in a way to bypass the need for chicken skin or lardons to react with the tannin in the wine
 
Ingredients Chicken Breast - Coq au Vin
  1. Chicken Breasts (600g)
  2. Luncheon Meat (200g)
  3. Onion (1)
  4. Shallots (8)
  5. Mushrooms (100g)
  6. Carrot (1)
  7. Garlic (1 bulb = 12 cloves)
  8. Red Wine (1 cup)
  9. Port (1/4 cup)
  10. Brandy (1/4 cup)
  11. White Rice (1T)
  12. Butter
  13. Chicken stock cube (1/2)
  14. Sage
  15. Thyme
  16. Oregano
  17. Paprika

Preparation

  1. Before proceeding with the rest of the recipe, brine your chicken breasts overnight or for at least 8 hours according to the recipe in this earlier post.
  2. Dry the brined chicken breasts with kitchen towels and rub on a dusting of paprika.
  3. Peel the garlic, shallots and onion. Cut the onion into 8 ‘quarters’ and slice the carrot into 1/3 inch pieces.
  4. Slice the luncheon meat (a.k.a. spam) block into 5 slices. Place this into a pot with half a mashed chicken stock cube, 1 cup of red wine, 1/4 cup port and 3 cups of water. Turn on the heat and bring to a low simmer.
  5. Add the garlic cloves, onion, shallots and carrot pieces. Sprinkle in 1 heaped T of raw rice  that has been rinsed (2T if cooked, without the rinse).
  6. Add 1t each of chopped sage, thyme and oregano. Simmer on low heat for 1 hour, uncovered. Top up with a bit of water as and when needed.
  7. OK, its one hour later. Melt 20g of butter in a second pot which is just big enough to fit the chicken breasts flat and without overlapping. When the butter begins to darken, sear the chicken breasts briefly in the butter to seal them and then quickly add the wine stew minus the luncheon meat.
  8. Top off with 1/4 cup brandy and the mushrooms (cut into halves). Make sure all the chicken is completely submerged.
  9. Bring to a boil for about 5 minutes, or until you notice that the meat is just beginning to shrink. Turn off the fire and leave covered for half an hour while the chicken continues to slow cook. You can serve your Coq au Vin anytime thereafter, but its best to leave the pot to sit for a few hours as more wine flavour will be infused into the chicken.
  10. Briefly bring to a second boil before serving. If you need to thicken the stew further, boil it down but with the chicken breasts temporarily taken out – return the chicken to the pot for a final quick reheat. Taste and add salt if needed at the very end.

Notes

  • As you’ve noticed, we do the cooking in two stages. Making the wine vegetable stew first without the chicken is the ticket to getting the wine to mature without overcooking the chicken breast. This is followed up by a short cooking time and long soaking time for the chicken to get tender flavourful chicken, a technique they use in making Hainanese Chicken Rice.
  • Normally chunks of salted pork fat called lardons and chicken skin are needed to neutralize the tannin of red wine. This is where the luncheon meat comes in. In fact since luncheon meat contains ground up connective tissue, it works even better to mature the red wine. The other good thing about using luncheon meat is that it can be removed easily.
  • The rice is a convenient way to thicken the stew without the trouble of making a roux with flour.
  • Burgundy, which is light, is normally the wine of choice for Coq au Vin while a heavier wine like Bordeaux is used for braising collagen rich beef cheek and oxtail. With all the collagen in luncheon meat, you can afford to use a heavier wine for a more robust stew.  
 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in French, Main Courses, Poultry, Recipe

 

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Two Colour Seafood Terrine


(serves 6 to 9)
This is a recipe for a cold semi-firm seafood terrine that is half red and half green. The use of canned lobster bisque and Nori (dried seaweed) sheets makes it much easier to get a full spectrum of seafood flavours while using just fish and prawn as you base ingredients. The lobster bisque is also used to make a lobster-shallot sauce that goes superbly with the terrine. Another nice touch is the use of brioche, which gives your terrine a nice buttery tone. The result, a juicy flavourful seafood terrine that everyone will enjoy.
 
Ingredients
  1. Sole Fillet (500g)
  2. Prawns (150g)
  3. Scallops (150g)
  4. Brioche (cubed, 2 cups)
  5. Cream (200ml)
  6. Lobster Bisque (1×400 ml can)
  7. Nori = Dried Seaweed (2 large sheets)
  8. Eggs (2)
  9. Shallots (9)
  10. Mayonnaise
  11. Butter
  12. Brandy
  13. Liquid Smoke
  14. Basil
  15. Dill Weed

Knife Work

  1. Spoon one heaping T of mayonnaise into a bowl so that it will be at room temperature by the time you need it.
  2. Cut each of your 9 shallots in half, peel them, then slice finely.
  3. Cut as much brioche as you need into small cubes until you get 2 cups full.
  4. Cut with scissors 2 large (like A4 paper sized) Nori sheets into confetti.
  5. Shell your prawns and dice them together with the sole fillet into pieces about the size of half a finger. Dust your seafood with salt and pepper from a shaker as if you were going to pan fry them.

Blending the Terrine

  1. In a pan, stir fry one third of the shallots in a dash of oil till they begin to brown. With the pan sizzling hot, add half the can of lobster bisque, 2T brandy and 1t basil. Let the mixture boil for 30 seconds and turn off the heat. Mix in 1 cup of brioche cubes. Allow to cool in a bowl.
  2. In the same pan(after washing it), stir fry another third of the shallots in the same way. This time add 200ml of cream, the Nori confetti, 2T liquid smoke. Let the mixture boil for 30 seconds and turn off the heat. Mix in 1 cup of brioche. Allow to cool in a second bowl.
  3. Place half the fish, half the prawns and an egg in a blender, then add the contents of the first bowl. It must be cool enough such that the egg doesn’t start cooking. Don’t liquidize it completely, just blend till you get a lumpy paste. Spoon the paste back into the bowl.
  4. Blend the rest of the fish and prawns with a second egg with the contents of the second bowl, using the same procedure.

Cooking the Terrine

  1. Line the inside of 6 ramekins with oversized pieces of clear cling film. Spoon the seafood paste from the two bowls into 6 ramekins as shown. Poke with the small end of a spoon to compact the paste and get rid of air pockets.
  2. When you are done, cover each ramekin with a second piece of smaller cling film and tuck the loose bits under the ramekin to seal everything up. The terrine will expand while it is cooking (although it will shrink back after that) so do not fill the ramekins too close to the brim.
  3. Set up your steaming rack in a pot with an inch of water and set it to boil. When the water is boiling. Arrange 3 ramekins within (see the picture below) and steam for half an hour on a low simmer. You can stack the other 3 ramekins on in an overlapping fashion if your pot is tall enough. If not, repeat with the second 3 ramekins.
  4. Allow the ramekins to cool and then chill them in the fridge with the clear film still attached. You can leave them in the fridge overnight.

Sauce 

  1. In the same pan(after washing it again), stir fry the remaining one third of the shallots in a few T of oil. This time you want to stir-fry on low heat until they are a nice deep brown.
  2. Pour in the remaining lobster bisque while the pan is sizzling, add 2T brandy, the warm mayonnaise, 1t dill weed and 1t sugar. Let it boil for 10 seconds and then set aside to cool. When it has cooled enough, spoon into a bowl and  chill this in the fridge as well.

Scallops

  1. Cut each scallop into half from the flat side, then slice them into thin semi-circular pieces.
  2. Melt a large knob of butter in the same pan (after washing it yet again) and then allow the pan to cool. Arrange the scallop pieces in the pan and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Turn the heat on and cook without touching the scallops at all. The moment you see the scallops get opaque, which is very fast, turn off the fire. They cook fast and this is the best way to ensure each piece is cooked the same and done just right.

Putting It Together

  1. Remove the chilled terrine blocks from the ramekins and clear film and pat dry with kitchen towels.
  2. Slice any uneven bits (like a rounded bottom) off the biggest blocks and mash them up (in their separate colours) so you can use them as fillers later.
  3. Slice each circular block into 2 thinner blocks.
  4. Arrange on plates with the clean cut surface facing up. Fill in any gaps with your mashed bits.
  5. Spoon the sauce onto the plate, around but not on the terrine.
  6. Finally, arrange the scallop petals on the plate on top of the sauce.
  • The structure of seafood terrines
    Fish Terrine 1000

    Another terrine I made on another occasion.

    varies widely. Mine is a simple one with no solid bits but you can put chunks of any kind of seafood you like in yours. Just make sure they cut easily (i.e. nothing chewy like clams)

  • You can make the colours more vibrant if you wish. One option is to use salmon as the fish for the red part and add some blanched chopped spinach to the green part (see picture).
  • I used a stainless steel round form to divide the terrine into inner and outer layers. If you don’t have these in your kitchen, one option is to make a Swiss-roll by spreading a thick layer of fish paste on a suitably sized sheet of Nori, rolling it up and standing it up in the ramekin as the centre. You’ll get a nice spiral pattern as your core (see picture). You can also just dispense with appearances and use a simple left-right arrangement.
  • Traditionally terrine is made in one large loaf shaped block (see picture) but I found that it is much easier to steam ramekins. If you want to make a one loaf terrine, you’ll have to cook the terrine on a pan of water in the oven, and replace the cling film with the more cumbersome parchment paper or perhaps blanched spinach leaves.
 
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Posted by on August 3, 2013 in Appetizers, French, Japanese, Recipe, Seafood

 

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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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