When I first saw the photo of the New York Times “Fresh and Wild Mushroom Stew“, I could practically taste it. Over a bowl of steamy polenta. This dish…I couldn’t get it out of my mind. And I’m not even a big mushroom fan.
Eventually I had the supplies, including two pounds of mushrooms: mostly creminis, a few chanterelles, and a crinkly bag from Mikuni Wild Harvest, “buna shimeji”. The cooking went surprisingly quickly; mushrooms yield their complex flavors without much coaxing.
Any mix of mushrooms will do, but if you have access to beautiful wild ones, like these chanterelles, your dish will have better flavor. Getting the mushrooms clean and prepped takes the most time, but you can do that while your dried mushroom broth simmers on the stove. Brush the dirt off each mushroom using a minimal amount of water, lest they get waterlogged. I work over the sink with a slow trickle of water from the faucet, mushroom in one hand, soft-bristled mushroom brush (or damp paper towel) in the other. I set a clean kitchen towel to the side and transfer each mushroom there when it is clean. Remember, you’re going for clean enough.
Polenta Basics: Bring 4 cups water to boil, add a teaspoon sea salt, 1 cup polenta and simmer about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once cooked, add in a tablespoon or two of butter, or olive oil, or a little of each to finish.
- 1 ½ pounds cultivated brown mushrooms, like shiitake, cremini or portobello
- ½ pound pale wild mushrooms, like chanterelles (or king trumpets, oyster, etc.)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
- pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh sage or rosemary, chopped
- pinch red pepper flakes or cayenne
- 3 small ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- pinch of salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 3 garlic cloves, minced and mashed with 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups water
- 1 onion, peeled and halved or 6 green onions, split
- 1 carrot, peeled and quartered
- 1 celery stalk, quartered
- 1/4 oz. dried porcini mushrooms (or other dried mushrooms), crumbled
- 1 bay leaf
- Start dried mushroom broth: Bring 4 cups water to boil, add the onion, carrot, celery, dried mushrooms, and bay leaf. Lower heat to maintain a slow simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, strain and discard solids.
- Clean mushrooms, keeping colors separate, and trim tough stems. Slice mushrooms about 1/8-inch thick.
- In a wide skillet, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until onion is softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Return pan to heat, add 1 more tablespoon oil. Add the brown mushrooms, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and stir-fry about 5 minutes. Lower heat to medium and add the tomato paste, thyme, sage, and red pepper and stir. Add tomatoes and cook for a minute.
- Sprinkle 1 tablespoon flour over all, stir, and cook for a couple minutes. Add reserved onions, 1 cup dried mushroom broth, and stir a minute, until thickened. Gradually add 1 more cup of broth and cook for a couple minutes, sauce should have gravy-like consistency; thin with more broth if necessary. Taste for seasoning and add an additional pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper if desired.
- Push cooked mushrooms to sides of pan and add 1 tablespoon butter to the middle of the pan. When butter begins to brown, add the chanterelles and sauté for a couple minutes, until they begin to brown. Add the garlic-salt mash and cook for a minute more. All done! Serve over freshly cooked polenta.