The weather in the region of our golf course was just perfect for golf a couple of weeks ago – which in itself needs writing about – but even more so was the 15-inch long, perfectly formed, stunningly white puffball mushroom we found near the 11th fairway. It was magnificent and, when trimmed, sliced and shallow fried in oil and butter then smothered in butter, garlic and parsley, was delicious!
It’s that time of the year when mushrooms are coming into season so keep your eye open, but make sure you don’t pick any you’re not 100% sure are edible, as there are plenty of poisonous ones about.
Foraging is one of those things that is currently having a great resurgence, as I found out on my recent TV show, A Taste Of Britain. It was while filming in some of the UK’s oldest woods in Gloucestershire that I met Rupert Burdock, a gentleman of great knowledge and determination who scours the area of Crickley Hill in search of the area’s culinary secrets.
My most vivid memories of foraging come from my time spent working in Lausanne, Switzerland. In the late 1960s there was a restaurant in the old city area where the patron foraged for almost all his produce during the mushroom season and harvested a magnificent range of mushrooms that he cooked in his restaurant. When I visited as a young chef, I was so impressed by the number of varieties and by how many dishes he created with mushrooms playing the major part.
Among mushrooms currently available are the shiitake and chestnut varieties, both with very different characteristics. Shiitake are less well known – they have an earthy smell with gold to deep brown caps, a slight bloom with creamy gills and should be plump and not shrivelled. The stems are often quite tough and should be put to one side to dry for the future. I prefer to use shiitake in a mixture of mushrooms when fresh but when dried and with deep white creases they are at their most prized.
The flavour of dried shiitake is so much more intense – they are perfect for stocks and sauces when reconstituted in hot water for 20–30 minutes and whatever you do, do not throw away the water they were soaked in as the flavour is terrific.
On the other hand chestnut mushrooms, or brown caps as they are often called, just demand to be eaten fresh, when they’re at their best. These are another strain of white button mushrooms with a deep nutty taste; my mum would have loved them in one of her favourite dishes – mushrooms on toast. Try them with dry sherry in a cream sauce on sourdough toast, delicious!
The beauty of the chestnut mushrooms in Waitrose is that they are lovingly grown on the supermarket’s own farm on the Leckford estate in Hampshire. They aim to be on the shelves in most Waitroses within 24 hours of picking – now that’s the next best thing to foraging them yourself.