The making of mushrooms

The fancy fungus has undergone a radical facelift to emerge as an exotic delicacy

Chop, chop

Mulling over ways on how to glamorise the humble mushroom? Cue into more than just enoki risotto and porcini ice cream. Wing in exotic, fresh black truffles sniffed out from the earth’s belly to create ripples on your palate together with expertly plated mushroom bruschetta, soft-bellied mushroom raviolli, wild mushroom pate, delectable mushroom ceviche... with caramelised, skewered and sauteed umbrella-heads making for a yummy, snacky chomp. The ubiquitious fungus has reinvented itself in curious ways in modern cuisine to redeem itself on the gleaming menus across tables in small plates, mains and desserts, moving beyond the ramparts of the vegetarian dishes to serenade meat lovers as well.

The Indian fix

The light-and easy-to-cook mushroom has traditionally come as part of hot, spicy, masala-laced gravies, or popped up in fried versions, stirred around in huge kadais in the Indian kitchens. Surprisingly, though not being a part of the veggie kingdom, the mushroom, in all its ethereal versions, complements both Indian and global cuisine perfectly with its genial, subtle character. Gifted with the magical zero-fat tag, strapped 85% with water and laced with potassium, the nodding fungus is an easy pick in the ingredient basket for everyone. Says Chef Amitesh Singh Virdi, executive chef at Punjab Grill, BKC, in Mumbai, of his latest experiments with the mushroom that has led to the inception of the delectable dish — the khumb pudina shorba (mushroom mint clear soup) prepared using a melee of baby buttons, “The mushrooms bring with them a mild, earthy flavour and the sweetness of mint blends in subtly to unfurl a palatable, warm green note in the soup. Mushrooms are subtle and work best in conjunction with mint, as they do not overpower the other ingredients, instead complementing the preparation to unfurl a symphony of flavours. Ideally, one part of mint works with 10 parts of mushroom. An excess of mint can risk bitterness on your tongue.” The bharwa kumbh is another popular stuffed- mushroom rendition that comes complete with a rich spinach and cheese belly to woo your palate on the vegetarian platter.

The morels in the tandoori gucchi are brought in by Chef Amitesh all the way from Kashmir. The wild mushrooms that hobnob across endless stretches amongst the Himalayan stretch are a luxe gourmet gospel and worth their weight in gold. “You need to understand and appreciate the taste of the different kinds of mushrooms to use them to their best advantage in your cooking,” he advises. “For instance, gucchi, with its spongy, honeycomb texture, is subtle in taste and does not require any marination or prior cooking. Simply washed to shrug off the grime, it is soaked in water to achieve the soft, tender complexion, before being stuffed and cooked in the tandoor for a smoky texture.”

The oriental stir

With the Japanese cuisine unfurling beyond the rice and ramen bowls, the mushroom saunters in to accentuate recipes with its delicate, lingering flavour. If you have enjoyed tucking in herbed mushrooms stroked with fresh thyme, together with jacketed, buttery baby potatoes, then oven mushrooms meet your tastebuds. Ancient Egyptians even believed that mushrooms grew by magic, because of the way they could appear overnight. From baby buttons to big portobella and oyster mushrooms, these fungi-strapping noveau recipes bring with them their healthy nutrients as well.

At pan-Asian restaurant Foo in Mumbai, Chef Eric Sifu celebrates the mushroom in multiple ways, whipping up a mean medley in the homemade truffle paste using portobello and walnuts, stroking dimsums and sushi with truffle oil, bringing in truffle paste to flavour cream cheese for sushi and wok-fried rice, and slices of truffle for garnishing pork dumplings. Dubbed as black diamonds, truffles are an expensive inclusion. “These are ways of increasing the earthiness in the flavour profile of dishes in a cost-effective way,” shares Chef Eric. “Cream cheese tends to be overpowering on the palate. The use of truffle accentuates the flavour perfectly as a foil for sushi. When you make use of truffle oil in a simple sweet-corn soup, it simply lifts the soup to another level, bringing in more depth and richness,” he explains. Sui mono, a truffle-scented clear soup, is rocking the food circuit in its light, its subtle flavours gifted by shiitake mushrooms. Hello Guppy, pan India, serves up the delicious bite-sized exotic mushroom gyoza in half-moon-shaped dumplings to be tucked in with a dot of soy sauce.

So, whether you nibble on crisp, truffle-tinged fries, or munch on the savoury truffle-stroked bao, the choice is yours. Meet the mushroom this season and let your palate flower.

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