Welcome back to our new column, Dealers Choice, where food expert Ian Purkayastha clues us in on what top chefs across America are serving on freshly ironed white linen tablecloths at upscale restaurants. Food dealer to over 300 restaurants nationwide, including a clientele of chefs like Sean Brock and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Ian’s smooth talking sales pitch and top shelf product list has everybody hooked on the goods he’s slinging.
There’s nothing more horrific to me than watching someone turn on the kitchen faucet and place a batch of wild mushrooms directly underneath it. It's pure evil, all of that value being instantly washed down the drain. The mushrooms get waterlogged, resulting in a disgusting, mushy texture, and all of the aroma—the main reason you’re paying a load of cash for these (legal) forest specimens—disappears altogether. There are a few exceptions, like the black trumpet, which is dirtier than the soles of some dude's boots in the front row at a Slayer concert. You can soak those to get the grit out, but almost any other variety, and I’ll kill you.
Step away from the sink, and take a paring knife or a toothbrush to your fungi. Lightly dust or scrape the dirt off of your assortment before throwing them into whatever culinary effort you’re creating.
And then there's the storage issue. Have you ever been in a stinky moving vehicle with the child lock on all of the windows? The A/C that's blaring suddenly becomes your worst nightmare circulating throughout that sealed off space. Take that experience and apply it to mushrooms in a Tupperware container, and you’ll never screw this up again. Shrooms are mostly made of water, and enclosed spaces kill off any free flow of oxygen. You'll destroy the taste, and grow some unwanted mold. So unless you’re trying to play a game of Russian roulette with botulism, put your fungi in a brown paper bag in the fridge and let them breathe until you’re ready to use them—but don’t wait too long.
With the holidays and high season of gluttony rolling into our sights, here are some of my top wild mushroom picks to make you look like the only person who has a handle on things at the dysfunctional family dinner table.
A lot of chefs and perverts refer to this as the “penis mushroom.” Yes, it does look like a phallus, and it’s considered the fertility mushroom of Japan, so maybe they’re onto something here. It’s also called the “pine mushroom,” since it grows underneath pine trees. The matsutake is an ancient ceremonial mushroom that’s believed to cure cancer and erectile dysfunction. The largest are known as a gift grade matsutake, or the “true number one,” but there are six different grades that foragers pick and sell for high prices. Japan is the greatest consumer of matsutake worlwide, where the highest quality can sell for up to $200 per pound. Size matters.
They have a cinnamon and pine tree aroma, but they will occasionally smell like wet dog or wet socks. Matsutake are very dirty or sandy, depending on where they are growing, so before you cook them, you’ll want to lightly peel the outer skin like an apple. Take a picture and upload your image to that Instagram handle, ThatLooksLikeADick. You can use a microplaner to grate them into dishes, or thinly shave them with a kitchen mandoline and quickly sear the outside. I like to serve them nigiri style.
Cauliflower mushrooms smell like hydrangeas with a hint of citrus. No, I don’t have a brain tumor. If you squint hard enough, they look a lot like regular heads of cauliflower that are grown on a Midwestern farm. Except these grow wild in the forest and don’t taste anything like their namesake. The flavor is pretty mild, ranging from notes of fennel to almond. I’m with Paula Deen on her one and only cooking method with this one: deep-fry this shroom.
There's blue and yellow bears tooth out there in the forest, but I usually find the white kind. Bears tooth grows on or under oak trees, but I’ve also spotted them growing on elm and apple trees. I saw a giant one growing in a 7-Eleven parking lot in Pennsylvania on an oak tree that weighed 12 pounds. I sold ten pounds of it to a restaurant client and ate the rest. It’s pretty mild in taste, but beyond it’s earthiness, it has hints of seafood. It’s a mushroom that’s best eaten when fried, roasted, or crisped up in a frying pan.
This is the most emo mushroom in the forest. Europeans like to call it the “trumpet of death,” because it looks almost identical to another species that can kill you, so don’t go foraging for this unless you really know what you’re doing. Black trumpets grow on mossy riverbanks and moist areas and are completely hollow on the inside, like the shape of a cornucopia. They’re also called “the poor man’s truffle,” because of their earthy aroma that’s similar to black truffles, if you close your eyes and fantasize a little bit.
Their most heinous nickname is “trumpet of the dead,” inspired by a very old theory that these are the trumpets that dead people play in celebration from six feet under. Miles Davis, is that you? But if I'm being completely honest, the mysteriously ancient creeps who dreamed up this moniker are not that far off in their theory. Black trumpets are thought to be saprotrophic—feasting on dead organic matter—so in a way, they’re eating dead corpses. Mmm, Grandma.
Watch out for spiders and millipedes when you’re cleaning these mushrooms. I've seen brown recluses all up in their insides.
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