Humans are greedy, selfish and, above all, gluttonous. It’s no revelation, judging by all the allegories and mythologies that tell of trouble arising from the appetite for gold and the temptation of food. Human nature has been around for a while, and we’ve spent plenty of time getting to know ourselves—and our weaknesses. What each individual can decide is this: does a well-filled belly weigh more than an overflowing purse in the balance of our depraved minds? Martial, the Roman poet and wit, puts forth his position: “it is easy to send a gift of silver or gold, a cloak or toga; but it is difficult to send mushrooms.” I’m with Martial on this one. There are many pigs in the world, from corporate pigs to truffle pigs, and I know what kind of pig I want to be.
Going mushroom hunting in Norwegian woods is a perennial dream of mine. For now, my hunting ground is the grocery store rather than the forest floor. I gather my mushrooms and pamper them like sacrificial lambs. They’re rinsed, gently patted dry, soaked in herbed-oil, spritzed in citrus and laid down to rest before they preform their duty on the appetizer tray. Any mushroom can be glorified by an herb and olive oil treatment, but for maximum decadence, use mushrooms like beech (shimeji), hen-of-the-woods (maitake), and king trumpet (eringi). The light flavor and silky texture of these mushrooms become extra refined in the warm aromatic oil bath.
Start with a few generous glugs of good extra virgin olive oil, enough to immerse a handful of thyme and thinly sliced garlic. Turn heat to low and let the aromatics slowly infuse the oil. The garlic should give rise to lazy streams of bubbles. Burning garlic rather than fuming brimstone is the smell of hell. After about 15 minutes the oil is ready to receive the mushrooms. Coat the mushrooms in oil, and gently stir once or twice as they wilt. After five minutes, start tasting. Once the flesh of the mushroom is no longer spongy and becomes silky smooth, remove from heat. Add a squeeze of citrus to freshen them up after the bath.
Slices of creamy white king trumpet mushrooms can be served carpaccio-style, with some fried capers for garnish. However, my favorite way to enjoy mushroom confit involves clusters beech mushrooms on a mound of lentil or quinoa salad. The pebble-like texture of grains and legumes provide a great contrast to the silky-smooth and tender bite of the mushroom. It just looks so right, pearly mushrooms on a mound of dark moist earth. Incidentally, the Latin word for earth and soil is “humus,” the root of “human” and “humility.” For all the talk of decadence, we get our food from the soil, and even though most of us don’t get our hands dirty anymore, we’ll all have our face down in the dirt, eventually.
If you have any comments, suggestions, questions or other tasty (or morbid) tidbits, contact DuanDuan at SnackBar.Kitchen@gmail.com.
Confit of Mushrooms
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh thyme, sprigs upon sprigs
Garlic, thinly sliced
Mushrooms, washed and patted dry
Lemon juice, to taste
- Add olive oil to small saucepan. The oil should come up to about ¼ inch.
- Immerse a generous amount of fresh thyme and garlic in the oil. Turn heat on extra-low and let aromatics infuse oil slowly for at least 15 minutes. The garlic should be reluctantly releasing bubbles.
- Add mushrooms and gently stir once or twice to coat with oil. Let mushrooms wilt in oil (about five minutes).
- Taste. Once the mushroom loses its spongy texture and becomes silky on bite, remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice or other acid (sherry or rice vinegars also work well) to taste.
- Transfer mushroom and oil (with garlic and thyme) to a jar. Make sure mushrooms are completely immersed in oil. Cover and let sit in fridge for at least a day before use. Serve warm or at room temperature on a bed of quinoa or lentils.