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Zox Kitchen

Zox Kitchen: April 17, 2014

Discover Mushrooms:

Delicious & Healthy Too

Mushrooms are as old as antiquity, or maybe older. They were first discovered in Chile around 13,000 years ago. But the first reliable evidence of mushroom consumption dates to several hundred years ago BC in China. Not surprisingly, the Chinese are the largest producers of mushrooms in the world today, along with the United States, the Netherlands, France and Poland.  

The Chinese have historically valued mushrooms for medicinal properties as well as for food. Ancient Romans and Greeks, particularly the upper classes, used mushrooms for culinary purposes. Tasters were employed by Roman Emperors to ensure that mushrooms were safe to eat. Of course this  wasn’t a job with much long-term job security. Rock and Roll bands and their fans of the 1960’s rediscovered other uses of over 200 mushrooms that contained psilocybin, the natural, psychedelic drug. Today however, the production of edible mushrooms is big business and a safe one. Mushrooms are produced in sterile, clean and controlled environments in at least 60 countries around the world.  

If you are beginning to see that mushrooms are multifaceted—with many uses besides consumption—then you  can appreciate that we Americans have only begun to discover  the world of mushrooms. Mushrooms have many healthy, medicinal uses. For example, I was fascinated by the studies which show that Crimini mushrooms provide us with unique immune system support, cardiovascular protection, and a boost in vitamin B-12 among several other health benefits. The studies show we have only just begun to  appreciate the medicinal potential of mushrooms.

For example, the highly respected West Coast Mycologist (mushroom expert), Paul Stamets did a presentation at a TED event (Available on YouTube) in which he discusses and documents  six solutions that can save the world through the use of mushrooms. Corporations and governments are paying close attention. These solutions include: 1. Radiation removal; 2. Cleaning polluted soil; 3. Combating flu viruses and 4. Small pox; 5. Making insecticides; and 6. Generating ethanol cellulose using mycellium (mushrooms as an intermediary0.

The use of mushrooms for culinary purposes is also growing in popularity, especially now that their nutritional value is  becoming well-known.  My favorite mushrooms really depend on the use you intend to make of them. Porcini mushrooms in Italy, (which are called Cepe mushrooms in France), are  amazingly flavorful in sautes and sauces. Portobellos are wonderful on the grill, in sandwiches and in vegetarian Indian dishes. Button mushrooms and Criminis can be used in dozens of other dishes. I particularly enjoy an assortment of wild mushrooms that combine Japanese, Italian and American mushrooms in pasta sauces and souffles. Interestingly, most of these mushrooms are grown in the State of Pennsylvania.

Whatever dish you choose to make or mushrooms you choose to use, do remember that all mushrooms consist primarily of water and are very perishable if not handled properly. To enhance their longevity, do not wash them to remove the dirt but rather wipe them with a moist towel. And don’t seal them in a plastic bag because mushrooms will suffocate. They need to breathe. Keep them in the fridge in a brown bag or a plastic one that has holes punched throughout. Remember that mushrooms are very much like humans; they breathe oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. I love this fact and find it rather amazing.  

Enjoy the souffle recipe below. There are many steps but it’s not difficult and it’s extraordinarily delicious. But keep in mind that a simpler way to eat mushrooms is to sweat them in a skillet and then saute them with a touch of butter, oil and shallots until they are crispy. (Sweating means to saute without fat to eliminate as much moisture as possible. This is important since mushrooms contain so much water.) Remove them from the pan and throw some chopped parsley on them and add a squeeze of lemon juice for a delicious side dish or appetizer. Or, try hydrating and cooking a few dried mushrooms like porcinis or Chanterelles with a few more fresh button mushrooms with your favorite grains and greens. Cooking mushrooms enables you to be exceptionally creative with very few ingredients. Bon appetite.

Mushroom Souffle With Roasted Poblano And Gruyere Cheese—Serves 8-10   

Equipment

Large ramekin, 8-9 inches in diameter, 3-4 inches high

A large skillet, 9 inches in diameter

Medium-size sauce pan

One medium-size bowl

Ingredients

• 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter for dusting the ramekin

• 1 tbsp, unsalted butter

• 2 tbsps. extra virgin olive oil

• 1/4 cup bread crumbs

• 2 shallots, diced

• 12 ounces mushrooms, diced Crimini and Shitaki, equal amounts

• 5 roasted Poblano chilies, removing skin, veins, seeds and stem; then dice

• 3 large egg yolks  

• Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Bechamel Ingredients

• 2 tbsps, unsalted butter,

• 1/2 cup Gruyere cheese, grated

• 1/4 cup Finlandia cheese, grated

• 3/4 cup whole milk, hot

• 2 1/2 tbsps. flour,

• 2 tsp. grated nutmeg

• 3 egg whites

• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste— Eg. 1/2 tsp. of each

Directions

1. Cover the bottom and sides of your ramekin with 1/2 tbsp. melted  butter using a pastry brush or paper towel and the same amount of bread crumbs, tapping out what doesn’t stick.

2. Crack your eggs and separate yolks and whites.

3. Begin to prepare your Bechamel by melting 2 tbsps. butter, 2 1/2 tbsps. flour, and cook while stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon for a few minutes. Slowly add the 3/4 cup of hot milk while adding salt, pepper and nutmeg and continue to heat at low temperature until it thickens. Remove from the heat. Next mix the egg yolks into the batter slowly, one at a time. Set sauce aside.

4. Sauté the  shallots with 1 tbsp. of olive oil in your skillet at medium heat until golden brown. Add 1 more tbsp. of oil to the skillet along with the diced, roasted Poblanos and cook at low heat for another minute or two.

5. Wipe the mushrooms clean with a paper towel and dice them. Then sweat them in the pan under medium heat. (This involves not adding fat (butter or oil) to the pan while reducing as much of the moisture as possible to avoid soggy mushrooms. This is important since mushrooms are 75 percent water.) At medium to low heat add 1 tbsp  of butter and 1 tbsp of oil in the skillet and add the diced mushrooms. Continue cooking the mushrooms for 3-4 minutes until they become lightly brown. Set aside to cool.

6. To bake the souffle, add the mixture of sauteed mushrooms, shallots and poblano chilies to the Bechamel and mix well. Add the Gruyere and Finlandia cheeses a little at a time. Leave some cheese out if batter is too thick—maybe 2-3 tbsps.

7.  Beat the egg whites with an electric hand mixer with a pinch of salt in a fresh, clean bowl until they form soft peaks. Next slowly fold about a quarter of the egg whites into the mushroom, poblano and cheese mixture. Slowly and gently incorporate the rest of the beaten egg whites into the mixture without losing too much volume.

8. Finally, pour the batter into the prepared 9-inch ramekin and bake at 375 F oven for 32-35 minutes. It should be nice and brown on top.

9. It is best to have everyone seated before removing the ramekin from the oven to serve. You have less than 1-1 1/2 minutes before the souffle starts to drop—which is normal. So when you place the ramekin on a trivet or a thick kitchen towel on the table, immediately plunge your large serving spoon in the middle and serve your guests on separate, salad-like plates. Bravo. They may clap. Some may want seconds.

Please send comments, questions or observations of interest to Chef Alan at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it