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Mt. St. Mushroom

The meal began with a dream of mushrooms. I had some old dehydrated morel mushrooms in the pantry, and I wanted to use them up. But morel mushrooms, as delicious as they are, do not a meal make. My idea was to buy lots of different varieties and have sort of a mushroom tasting, either as individual varieties or all together.

It was off to the store, and over two days I accumulated quite a selection. First there were two bags of white, slightly dirty button mushrooms saved from the discount tray on a late night return after drinking too much. There was also a small pack of fresh shiitakes, a tight clump of brown shimeji mushrooms, and finally a flat cluster of maitake mushrooms from the local grocery store.

Kuniko was a key player in providing the more obscure ones. She brought home a package of mature hiratake mushrooms, with silver-grey topped caps the color of old nickels. And she also produced what turned out to be the highlight: a small basket of kakinokitake that smelled of fruity perfume right out of the package and colored bright orange like the persimmon it is named for.

I rehydrated the morels, dusted them in flour, and fried them in salty butter in our heavy iron skillet. The texture of the fried morels was unique to me, firm but not quite crunchy, with a rich mushroom taste that was carried even further when accented with butter. They served as our appetizer while I assembled the rest of the ‘shrooms.

The skillet was put back into use, first by sautéing several smashed cloves of garlic in a puddle of olive oil, then accommodating the rest of the mushrooms, six kinds in all, as I dropped orphaned parts of each cluster into the heat making a haphazard mix. Eventually all the mushrooms made it into the skillet, forming a kind of uncooked mushroom mountain that was initially frightening to behold.

With time the mushrooms began to release water and absorb oil, and the aromas of earth, garlic and a surprising fruity note from kakinokitake mixed and filled the kitchen. With so many varieties in the same pan it was hard to know when the best time was to finish the sauté, but the good thing about mushrooms is that with so much water trapped inside their cellular structure, there is a lot of room for error.

In the end the dish was delicious. The flavors and textures of individual varieties of mushroom could be experienced by picking them out with a fork, and the sauce that coated every member of our mushroom army served to unite them all into a satisfactory whole. The real revelation was the orange kakinokitake that contributed an unexpected fruitiness that survived the forced assimilation of so many disparate flavors in the fry pan. We’ve had this kind of mushroom before in our nabe during winter months, but I was impressed that it worked so well in the sauté.

So we sipped our Spanish Garnacha from Alto Moncayo, enjoyed our fungal feast, and that set the tone for our weekend.

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