Updated: Nov 10, 2022
I envy Europeans who know their mushrooms and can go foraging in their local forest for fungi treasure. About twenty five years ago, when I was still living in New York City, I talked two friends into joining me on a mushroom hunt in Rockefeller State Park organized by the Connecticut Westchester Mycological Association (check out their magazine Spores Illustrated). The excursion ended up a really awkward situation and all the more hilariously awful because I only had myself to blame for creating it.
My friends had driven up to Westchester from their homes in the East Village, where they were busy making the lifestyle choices of Johnny Thunders. They arrived very hung over, and trailed behind the group, sweating in their leather. I guess they'd heard "mushroom hunt" and imagined some sort of psychedelic picnic. Instead they found themselves marching around behind a short, pink lady in a bowl cut hairdo and wearing tiny mushroom earrings. She had the delivery of a Brownie troop leader. "Come over here, girls! I found something very interesting under this fallen log." I looked at all of her mushrooms, but my friends stayed behind, smoking and comparing tattoos.
On that day, I learned:
1) the term "Irish pajamas," and
2) that if I ever mushroom hunted on my own and ate what I picked, I would very certainly die.
It's so unfair that some people grow up knowing how to do this. Once I was out strolling with some friends in the Audubon in Greenwich, Connecticut and the Swiss guy in the group found half a pound of black trumpet chanterelles in about 15 minutes. I suppressed my wild jealousy and said: "Wow, you are really good at mushroom hunting." If he had not generously shared his haul, I would have never stopped stabbing him.
I love mushrooms and cook with them a lot, but I don't generally like recipes that substitute mushrooms for meat. I have tried many disappointing fake meat dishes (meatballs, meatloaf, etc.) made with mushrooms, but mushroom bourguignon is the exception. I discovered that what I love about beef bourguignon is the sauce, not the beef. The mushroom version of this stew delivers the same fantastic hearty flavor of the meat version, which I will probably never make again.
I have found a couple of versions of this stew online, but this Melissa Clark recipe is by far the tastiest. This version is a slight variation of Melissa's recipe (I skipped one of her garnishes) but by all means try hers. One of the great advantages of the mushroom version of this dish over the meat version is that it takes about a third of the time to cook.
6 tablespoons butter, plus more as needed (could use oil and make this vegan)
2 pounds mixed mushrooms (I use cremini, white button, and whatever fancier ones I can find. Costco was selling chanterelles for a while. We bought some, and then, like a pair of crackheads, went back the very next day to buy more). The mushrooms should be chopped into 1 to 2 inch chunks (~8-10 cups)
8 ounces frozen peeled pearl onions (~2 cups). If you can find fresh peeled pearl onions, that's better, but they are hard to find. I usually find the Bird's Eye frozen kind. Just beware of the version that comes in a cream sauce. Yuck.
salt and pepper
2 leeks, white and light green parts, diced (~1 1/2 cups)
2 carrots, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups red wine (always cook with wine you are willing to drink. GTFO with your "cooking wine")
1 ½ cups mushroom or vegetable broth (can also use beef broth)
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce, plus more to taste
Fresh thyme branches or dried thyme leaves to taste
1 bay leaf
1 bag broad egg noodles (or other pasta if you are vegan)
fresh parsley for garnish
Add 2 tablespoons butter to a Dutch oven or other covered pot, and set over medium heat.
When the butter is hot, stir in 1/3 of the mushrooms. (Don't crowd mushrooms- you will need to do this in batches or they will not fry but stew)
Without moving them around too much, cook the mushrooms until they are brown on one side, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir and let them brown on the other side, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer mushrooms to a large bowl or plate.
Repeat with another 2 tablespoons butter and the remaining mushrooms, seasoning them as you go.
Do the same with the onions. Melissa's recipe has you cook the onions with the mushrooms, but don't do this if you use the frozen kind, as they will release too much liquid and stew your mushrooms. Sprinkle salt and pepper and sauté until they start to brown.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Add another 1 tablespoon butter to pan. Add leeks and carrot and sauté until the leeks turn lightly golden and start to soften, 5 minutes.
Add the 2 minced garlic cloves and sauté until fragrant.
Stir in tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.
Add wine, broth, 1 tablespoon tamari, thyme, and bay leaf, scraping up brown bits at bottom of pot.
10. Add reserved cooked mushrooms and onions back to the pot and bring to a simmer.
11. Partly cover the pot and simmer on low heat until carrots and onions are tender and sauce has thickened, ~30 minutes.
12. Taste and add more salt, tamari, or pepper if needed.
13. Boil noodles and drain.
14. Spoon mushroom bourguignon over noodles and sprinkle with finely chopped parsley
Serves at least 4. Like all stews, it tastes even better the next day.
Sorry, Julia. Now that I have discovered this dish, there is no looking back.