We’re moving into prime wild mushroom season, something England does fantastically well. Buying wild mushrooms at the farmers’ market is a veritable exercise in the wonders of nature. Cloud ear mushrooms, King oysters, Girolles, Trompettes, Shitake, Hen of the Woods, Ceps and Chanterelles piled high and ready to be taken home and devoured. If I’m honest, they rarely get any other treatment than being quickly cooked with olive oil, butter and salt, and heaped on top of grilled sourdough bread – sometimes I’ll even throw a poached egg on top for my all time favourite brunch. However, I’ve been doing a lot of picnicking recently and I think these wild mushrooms deserve a place on the picnic rug. These quick pickled mushroom recipes are not only perfect for a picnic, quick to do and easily done a week in advance, but they go amazingly well with rich meats like pâtés, pork belly and game (which is coming into season now – pickled girolles with grouse is amazing).
There are many different types of pickles and many people I know find this scary. In essence pickles are simple – they are preserving food through the use of salt or acid (normally vinegar). They can be done quickly (which often involves heat) or slowly (which involves submerging in a pickling liquor for a long time). Crucially, it’s only long slow pickling that requires you to be super careful with sterilisation. Quick pickles don’t last as long but also are very simple to make. Cooking pickles at home allows you to control whether you want them sweet or sharp, how salty you want them, whether you want them spicy or mild. Maybe you like herbs like dill, maybe you don’t – it’s your call. However, there a three things you should think about when making pickles: Texture, Acidity and Flavour.
Often forgotten about in pickles but crucially important. The two pickle recipes I’m sharing below have very different textures to each other and they in turn are different to the the crunchy texture of a cucumber pickle (my true pickle love is a crunchy, fermented dill pickle). Generally, texture is affected by many things including heat, moisture and the starting texture of the ingredient. In the recipes below there are two very different approaches to pickled mushrooms and they give very different textural results – in particular these results are caused by the different applications of heat.
The sherry oyster mushrooms are delicious – they’re tangy and sharp with a mellow sweetness and richness that comes from the cooked oyster mushrooms. They’re also a little slippery, like really good soup noodles or delicious buttery pasta. The texture is caused by both the type of mushroom (oysters are a softer mushroom) and the way they’re prepared. Cooking the mushroom before makes it softer.That texture is why they go so beautifully with the pork belly and celeriac that I served at this dinner party. The textural contrast in that dish is from the crackling, the rest of the dish feels a bit like like a warm hug. It’s also why they go so well with crumbly cheese. However, I don’t think these mushrooms would be very pleasant in a salad. For that you want something a little crunchier or a little meatier. The girolle mushrooms (shitakes would also work well) are a firmer mushroom to start with. However, we still want to alter the texture a bit from their raw state. Raw mushrooms have a slightly chalky and grainy texture which we get rid of through lightly cooking them in hot pickling liquor. This has a double function, it plumps them up and part cooks them.
Wanting to add acidity to a dish is often the point of a pickle. Acidity is commonly used to cut through the richness or fattiness of a dish just like how the girolles and lemony artichoke cut through the richness of the pâtés below. However, acidity provides another crucial role in food as a seasoning. Seasonings enhance the flavour of other ingredients (salt and vinegar are the prime examples) whilst spices, like pepper, add flavour to a dish. Acidity makes you salivate which in turn makes you taste other flavours even more. Pickles are often a great way to add acidity to a dish, so controlling the amount of acidity in the pickle is really important. You can add it through lemon juice or vinegar or even through a fermentation process. It’s that fermentation which gives the tang to traditional dill pickles. In the girolle recipe below, I didn’t want too much acidity so I only use one part vinegar to two parts boiling water to make the pickling liquor.
Flavour is obviously a key part of any food and the same is true of pickles. A judicious addition of spices, herbs, garlic or chilies can really make a pickle sing. The longer the pickle has in the liquor, the more likely other flavours will impart into the food. However, even in a quick pickle, you can simmer the liquor with all the spices and flavourings you want to infuse the liquor with before pickling. This is really where you can play around as much as you like – who am I to say that banana skins don’t impart a wonderful flavour to pickling liquor (spoiler – they don’t!). Go wild and let me know if you stumble on a winner.
Sherry oyster mushrooms:
- 500g oyster mushrooms (or whatever wild mushrooms you’ve got to hand)
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- Cracked black pepper
- 100ml sherry vinegar
- Tear the oyster mushrooms into bite sized strips. Season well with sea salt and put to one side.
- Heat a liberal amount of olive oil in a pan over a high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until soft (3-5 minutes). Make sure the pan you’re using is large enough that the mushrooms are in one layer. As mushrooms cook they release a lot of water and you want that water to boil off. If there isn’t enough room the water will remain in the pan and the mushrooms will stew – going rubbery. Make sure that mushrooms are never in the pan without oil – you may need to add more as they cook, err on the side of too much not too little. The same philosophy applies to the salt as well – muchrooms love to soak up oil and salt.
- Add the sherry vinegar and cook for a further minute or two until the vinegar has reduced and soaked into the mushrooms.
- Remove from the heat, mix with a little olive oil and store in the fridge until needed. It’ll keep at least a fortnight but have never lasted more than few days in our house.
Pickled girolle mushrooms:
- 250g girolle mushrooms
- 100ml fig and red wine vinegar (any sweeter vinegar would work, champage or raspberry is also delicious)
- 200ml white wine vinegar
- 3 pinches sea salt
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- Prepare the girolle mushrooms. To do this you trim the very end of the stem off and then peel the stem with a paring knife. This removes all the grit and makes them look very pretty.
- Boil 600 ml of water and then mix in the vinegar, salt and garlic.
- Remove from the heat and add the mushrooms making sure they are totally covered. Leave in the water for 20-30 minutes or until the mushrooms are the texture and flavour you’re looking for. They should still be meaty and firm but with a light acidic bite.
- Remove them from the pickling liquor and serve, They are equally nice warm or cold and will keep for a fortnight stored in the fridge in their liquid. In fact they’re often nicer the next day.