Culinary questions find delicious answers (and tasty recipes) with Flash in the Pan.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Q: Dear Flash,
My boyfriend is a local-foods freak. When we go out to eat, he insists on interrogating the wait staff with questions about where the food comes from. For every menu item he considers, the server has to run to the kitchen for answers. How can I get him to calm down, accept what’s written on the menu, and make his decisions accordingly? –Frustrated Omnivore
A: I’m not sure you need to calm down your boyfriend. But perhaps you need to calm down. Although it’s possible he is a spoiled brat, there might be more than self-interest involved here. Sure, he wants to eat good food. But maybe he also wants his food dollars to go to local farmers. Maybe he thinks that by asking questions he’s encouraging the restaurant to think about such things, thus nudging the chef in a more sustainable direction with the message that yet another customer wants local food.
Those who’ve worked in food service probably remember the mantra, “The customer is always right.” When a customer simply wants a better idea of what’s for sale, i.e., what will be going into his or her body, the customer has every right to ask.
And remember: If the server has a memory, the next time this question is asked, there will be no inconvenience involved. The server will simply remember the answer and provide it. And in a perfect world, that server would be rewarded with a generous tip.
Q: Dear Ari,
I’ve fallen hard for morel mushrooms this summer, and last night I made my first morel cream sauce: a reduction of shallots and morels in white wine, chicken stock and cream, served over chicken. Wow! The cream seemed to bring out the distinctive, delicate flavor of the morels. My girlfriend swooned.
Now I’m scheming to satisfy my honey’s hunger for morel sauce all year long, even after the fresh ones disappear from the market. I need a way to preserve my morels plain, and use them up as the year wears on. What’s the best method?
They’re a pain to clean, too. Can you suggest a preferred technique? –Flirting With Fungus
A: I’ve been picking literal bucketloads of morels this year on the parched landscapes of last summer’s forest fires. It’s been quite a circus, complete with legal and illegal picking camps, turf wars, law enforcement, hidden stashes retrieved after dark, and lots of wild morel-inspired sex everywhere.
OK, maybe not the sex part.
Those of us who are picking recreationally are bound by an archaic Forest Service requirement to cut our mushrooms in half, which I never do. It’s an insult to be mandated by law to mutilate these gorgeous fungi that you’ve worked your ass off to pick.
If they ever bust me for not cutting my morels, I’ll see them in court.
Getting to your questions, in reverse-order: Clean your fresh morels as gently as possible. Just brush them off. And don’t worry about getting every foreign speck and particle. Parched forest duff is part of the flavor.
As for your preservation question, I think making your sauce now with fresh morels and then freezing is a good option. You’ve found a recipe you like, and you want to enjoy it year-round. Just make sure there’s enough liquid in the sauce that no morel chunks are sticking out of it.
For long-term, general-use morel storage, dehydration is the way to go. Dried morels take up no freezer space, and all your options remain on the table in terms of how you cook them. The tricky part of dealing with dried mushrooms is re-hydrating them, which is best done slowly.
Bring a cup of water to a simmer with a cube of stock, and slowly pour the stock over your dried morels, tossing them as you pour. There should be just a little liquid at the bottom of the pan; the morels shouldn’t be swimming. Leave them covered a few hours, checking once in a while to make sure they aren’t thirsty, and adding more stock if necessary. They should come back to life perfectly.
And speaking of morels and cream, yes, it’s an epic combination. Here’s what I do:
Start with lots of butter in the pan. Add morels (whole or cut, depending on their size and how many you have) along with a roughly equal part of finely chopped shallots (or onions), and a shot of sherry. Cook on medium heat. When the pan starts to dry out, add more sherry. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. While it’s cooking, add lots of good crème, like half-n-half, heavy cream, milk, brie, sour cream, St. Andres Triple Crème, whatever. While it’s cooking, taste the liquid frequently. Don’t be afraid to add more sherry, more butter, more crème. Don’t overdue the nutmeg– add a little at a time until you can just taste it.
This sauce goes with pretty much anything– from pasta to bread to most meats.