Alice’s Mushroom Tips

  1. Seasonality: Mushrooms are available year-round thanks to their fun-ghi capacity to party anywhere. BUT they’re most robust in flavour in autumn through winter, when the rains start to make conditions for wild-picked varieties.
  2. What to look for: Use your nose to find the freshest fungus – they should smell earthy but not eggy. They should feel springy but not spongy, and definitely not slimy.
  3. Varieties to look out for: I’m always partial to a tight little button, but Aussie shiitake have captured my heart over the last few years. I love the way they add umami (that’s savouriness) to dishes, and add them freshly saved through broths, stir-fries and bolognaise (heretical in some circles, but here’s to doing what you want!). Asian grocers will stock dried shiitake that you can reinvigorate in some water – and don’t forget to add that murky water back in as a mushroomy stock. Other asian varieties like enoki and oyster mushrooms make for super stir-fry additions too. As a child forager in the Dandenong and Macedon area, I loved stumbling on Slippery Jacks and Pine mushrooms, which make themselves known after a spot of solid drizzle. You’ll be able to track them down more often in the coming months at the markets, or head out on your own adventures in the plentiful pine forests around the place.
  4. How to store: Mushrooms are extremely porous, and prone to mushiness, so they’re best stored in a cool, dry place – basically like tomatoes! Storing them in the fridge with all those other fridge smells is fraught with funk and will also dry them out, so if you’re leaving them in there for longevity purposes, consider adding a very slightly moistened paper towel inside a paper bag. Whatever you do, don’t store them in a plastic bag, as they’ll sweat and slip around until they turn into soup (and not in a good way).
  5. How to cook: Speaking of soup, here’s a Souper Easy:
    Creamy Mushroom Soup:
    500g mushrooms, thinly sliced
    1 brown onion, finely chopped
    20g butter (approx.)
    500ml chicken/vegetable stock
    100ml cream
    Salt flakes & cracked black pepper to taste
    Dill fronds & finely sliced fresh pine mushrooms to garnish (optional)
    Créme Fraiche/Sour Cream (optional)Method:
    1. Sweat the onion in a pan with half the butter on a med-low heat. If the pan starts to to seem dry, add a teaspoon of water to keep from colouring the onion too much. Go slow – this should take at least 10 minutes.
    2. Meanwhile, heat a second pan, and start frying off the mushrooms a little at a time until they start to turn golden, slowly adding the rest of the butter. Remember not to overcrowd the pan, otherwise they’ll sweat (which means the flavor won’t be as sweet).
    3. Heat the stock in a large pot to just below the boil.
    4. When mushrooms and onion are sufficiently fried off, add both to the stock, then use a stick blender (such as a Bamix) to whizz it all together. (as an aside, I did this part in my Thermomix, but if you don’t have one, a stick blender will work just as well, as long as it has a metal compartment – the plastic ones will melt from the heat of the stock)
    5. Add the cream and emulsify this with the stick blender also.
    6. Season to taste
    7. Top with fronds and fresh mushrooms. And, if you so desire, more cream/créme fraiche/sour cream.
    NB: For an entirely dairy free version, substitute olive oil and cashew cream instead of the butter and cream

Complementary pairings: Butter, Cheese (especially goat’s, feta, gruyere and parmesan) Cream, Garlic, Nutmeg, Onion, Sage, Star Anise, Truffle.

In the lead-up to mushroom season, Alice Zaslavsky suggested this pot pie recipe on Drive with Raf Epstein’s Foodie Tuesday, taken from Vicki Valsamis and Caroline Griffiths cookbook The Vegetable.