5 Easy ways with... Mushrooms
Updated: May 1
Mushrooms are a wonderfully versatile ingredient. They're cheap (unless you go for the fancy, wild varieties) rich in flavour, and packed with nutrients. If you're getting yours from a supermarket that has a limited selection, I'd recommend the chestnut variety, as they have a lovely nutty quality that you don't get from white or button mushrooms.
These recipes are all quick and easy to make, and require limited ingredients and no fancy kitchen equipment. Where I can think of easy substitutions for ingredients I have suggested them - you may think of better ones. If you do, let me know!
1. Mushroom Stock
Mushroom stock has such a deep, savoury umami flavour that it can be used to replace beef stock in many recipes. It also makes the base for a good mushroom risotto, or can be used as a broth for soups and noodle dishes. Thickened with a little corn flour it makes an excellent mushroom gravy for vegetarian or vegan Sunday roasts.
In the restaurant I make it using dried porcini mushrooms, but these are expensive and can be hard to find. If you want to use them you absolutely can (the flavour is incredible) - but make sure that after soaking the mushrooms you strain the liquid through a cloth before using, as it will be full of fine grit that won't all get caught in a regular strainer.
Recipe (makes 700ml)
250g chestnut mushrooms (or 100g dried porcini)
2 cloves garlic, crushed with the blade of a knife
1/2 a carrot
1/2 a celery stick
1/2 a shallot
sprig of thyme
sprig of rosemary
1 litre boiling water
1. If you're using chestnut mushrooms, roughly chop them, toss them with a little oil and roast them in the oven or fry them gently in a pan until they are a deep brown
2. Transfer the mushrooms to a large pan. Add the vegetables, garlic and herbs, and pour over the boiling water.
3. Simmer very gently over a low heat for around 1 hour. The water should just be bubbling slightly. You may need to top up the water so check it regularly - you do want the volume of liquid to reduce, but you still want to have around 700ml of liquid when it's finished.
4. Pass the finished stock through a sieve (and a cloth if you used porcini)
2. Mushroom Risotto
A good mushroom risotto is a thing of beauty. You can make this using chestnut mushrooms for a bowl of simple home comfort, but if you can get wild mushrooms (when they're in season) it becomes a head-turning dinner party dish. Most of the flavour comes from the mushroom stock (above) so it's worth getting that right.
The secret to cooking any risotto is time. Prep your ingredients first, then be prepared to spend 30 mins at the stove, adding stock bit by bit and stirring constantly, as it's the agitation of the rice that releases its starch to produce the rich, creamy texture you're looking for. As you're only adding small amounts of liquid at a time, it's also essential to keep it moving so it doesn't stick and burn.
In a professional kitchen where risotto is on the menu, each one should be prepared from scratch and served immediately, so it's not uncommon in a busy service to see a chef with 8 or more small risotto pans in front of him, all at slightly different stages in the cooking process, and all getting constant attention. In that environment it can become one of the most demanding dishes on the menu. When you're making a single batch at home it becomes a much more relaxed and easy affair.
Recipe (serves 2)
700ml mushroom stock - kept hot
100g Chestnut mushrooms
200g risotto rice (Aroborio or Carnaroli)
1/2 a shallot
1/2 a celery stick
1 clove garlic, grated
2 teaspoons thyme leaves (pick from 1 sprig fresh thyme)
1 glass (75ml) white wine
1. Chop the mushrooms very finely (if you're using wild mushrooms you can leave them whole or tear them a little to better show them off in the finished dish). Cook them gently in 25g of the butter. When they are soft and cooked through, set them aside.
2. Dice the shallot and celery as fine as you can (you're aiming to cut it the same size as the rice)
2. Melt 50g of the butter in a heavy based pan and sweat the shallot, celery, thyme leaves and grated garlic with a pinch of salt over a low heat until it's soft and transparent.
3. Turn up the heat to a high medium and add the rice. stir slowly but constantly for 3 - 4 minutes so the rice gets coated in the butter and slightly toasted
4. Pour in the wine. It will hiss and sizzle and then settle down to a simmer. Turn the heat down to medium.
5. Add the hot stock, 1 ladle-full at a time, stirring constantly. Don't add more stock until the rice has absorbed almost all of what you've added. Keep stirring and slowly adding stock until the rice is cooked. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked you can use a ladle or two of hot water to finish it off. This will take around 20 minutes, but check after 15. It should be cooked through, but still with a slight bite to it. Cook out the last of the stock/water so the risotto is wet, but not soupy.
6. Stir in the cooked mushrooms and the parmesan. This will thicken the last of the liquid and bring the risotto together. Taste and season with a pinch of salt if required.
7. Serve straight away. You can garnish with a few additional cooked mushrooms, some parsley or chervil, some crushed toasted hazelnuts, or a few drops of truffle oil.
3. Peppered Mushrooms
These were one of the first things I learned to cook, from a chef in a gastropub where I was a waiter, barman and KP while I was a student. I've adapted his recipe slightly, as his called for Bisto gravy granules, but I still make it regularly at home. It's fine to use beef stock from a stock cube.
You can serve these as a sauce / side for a steak, as a filling for a jacket potato, or on sourdough toast as brunch or a light supper. You can also adapt this into a fantastic sauce for chicken or guinea fowl by leaving out most of the pepper and substituting chicken stock in place of beef or mushroom stock.
Recipe (serves 2)
250g mushrooms - any variety
1/2 clove garlic, grated
50 ml marsala wine, or 25 ml brandy
200ml beef or mushroom stock
150ml double cream
1. Roughly chop the mushrooms, and sauté in a pan with the butter, garlic and a good pinch of salt over a medium heat until a rich, dark brown
2. Turn up the heat, and pour in the marsala or brandy to deglaze the pan. Give the bottom a scrape to lift any sticky bits. Season generously with plenty of fresh ground black pepper.
3. Add the beef or mushroom stock and turn down the heat again. simmer gently until the liquid has reduced by half
4. Add the cream, and reduce by half again, stirring gently. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt or pepper as required.
4. Mushroom and Lentil Ragu
One of the brilliant things about mushrooms is that they make a great meat substitute for those looking to reduce their meat consumption.
This mushroom and lentil ragu makes a good vegetarian bolognese, lasagne or shepherds pie. I also like to layer it with alternating layers of finely sliced celeriac and bake it in the oven with cream and stock to make an indulgent gratin.
I'm using pre-cooked lentils in this recipe. Its cheaper to buy them dry and cook them yourself, but it also requires pre-soaking them for 24 hours and then cooking them in advance. If you're well organised enough to do this, hats off to you.
The vegetables that form both the flavour base and the body of the sauce in this dish are known to chefs as "mirepoix" which is a french term that originally referred to the way they are cut (very fine dice) but now is used to refer to the combination of onion, carrot and celery (and sometimes leek and garlic) that is the foundation of so much of western cooking. Getting the vegetables cut as finely as possible is key - you want them as close as possible to the size of the lentils, so it's worth spending a bit of time here.
Recipe (serves 4)
500g Chestnut mushrooms, very finely chopped or pulsed in a food processor
1 pack or tin of ready-to-eat puy lentils
1 large carrot, finely diced
2 sticks of celery
1 large leek
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1 sprig of rosemary, leaves finely chopped
1 sprig of thyme - pick the leaves as best you can and discard the woody stem
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon yeast extract (marmite)
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
glass of red wine
700ml mushroom stock
1. in a heavy based pan, cook the mushrooms off in 50g of the butter with the chopped rosemary and thyme leaves, a good pinch of salt and some fresh cracked black pepper. They will give out a lot of liquid at first - you want this to cook away. Keep stirring so they don't stick.
When all the liquid has been cooked out and the mushrooms are starting to catch and caramelise, pour in the wine to deglaze the pan. Scrape any sticky bits off the bottom. allow the wine to simmer for a minute to evaporate off the alcohol, then transfer everything into a bowl and set aside.
2. In the same pan, add the rest of the butter, and over a medium heat slowly cook the onion, carrot, leek, celery and garlic until it is all soft and translucent.
3. Add the tomato paste, stir and cook for a couple of minutes.
4. Pour in the mushrooms stock. Add the lentils and the cooked mushrooms and any liquid they were in. stir in the marmite and add the bay leaves. Reduce the heat to the gentlest of simmers, pop a lid on it and let it cook gently for at least 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. After 45 minutes, check it - you're looking for most of the liquid to have reduced and for it to have a texture similar to a bolognese sauce. If it's too liquid, just keep simmering, stirring and reducing until you reach the right consistency.
5. King Oyster Mushroom Ramen
The key to good ramen is getting the broth right. For this recipe a good mushroom stock is essential as the base. Everything else builds on that. Use the recipe for mushroom stock above - but this is one dish where I'd say it's worth investing in using some dried porcini or dried shitake mushrooms to make it it, to be sure you get the best depth of flavour.
The king oyster mushrooms I use in this dish are a menu staple in my restaurant because they look beautiful and have a taste and a texture not unlike chicken, which makes them a great component in vegetarian dishes. They're becoming much more common in supermarkets and farmers markets now so should be easy enough to find, but at a push you can substitute good sized portabello mushrooms in their place.
Don't worry too much about getting exactly the right vegetables to go in your ramen either. That comes down to personal taste. Sometimes I make this with a bag of pre-cut stir fry veg that you can get for about £1 in any supermarket.
Recipe (serves 2)
For the broth:
700ml mushroom stock - make up to 1ltr by adding 300ml hot water
1 piece of ginger, about the size of your thumb, sliced into thin discs
1 stick lemon grass, crushed with the side of a knife
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 red chilis, cut in half
A dash of mirin (you can substitute rice wine vinegar or sherry, or leave out)
A dash of soy sauce
For the mushrooms:
2 king oyster mushrooms (or portabello mushrooms)
1 tablespoon miso paste
1 clove garlic, grated
tablespoon soy sauce
tablespoon vegetable oil
teaspoon of honey
For the ramen:
2 blocks dried ramen noodles
100g sugar snap peas (or green beans or similar)
100g bean shoots
50g grated carrot
50g shredded cabbage or kale
To garnish (optional):
1. In a large pan heat your stock to a low simmer, add all the other ingredients and allow to infuse over a low heat for at least half an hour, while you prepare everything else. When it's ready, strain out all the aromats and return the liquid to the pan.
2. Mix together all the mushroom marinade ingredients in a bowl. If you are using king oyster mushrooms, cut them in half length ways and score the flesh inside in a diamond pattern, deep enough to allow the marinade to penetrate but careful not to go through the mushroom. Coat the mushrooms in the marinade and allow them to sit for 30 minutes.
3. remove the mushrooms from the marinade and brush or shake off any excess, then cook them under a medium grill, turning occasionally until they are cooked through. This will take about 10 minutes. Let them cool a little and then slice them ready to top your ramen.
4. Bring up the heat under your stock. As it approaches the boil add your noodles and vegetables and cook for a few minutes until the noodles are ready. Top with the sliced mushrooms and garnish with chili flakes and sesame oil.