Saturday, May 21, 2011


Wild oyster mushrooms

So I’m driving through Warwick, New York with my buddies Paul and Claude, and what should present itself but a maple tree decorated with oyster mushrooms. What were three fungal-lovers to do but brake hard, jump out with knives and bags, and harvest? (Actually, only Claude and Paul jumped out – this was Main Street and aswarm with shoppers and I’m a bit shy for this type of display, so I crunched in the back seat and hid.)

The next day I was shopping in my local Whole Foods for some San André cheese, the secret ingredient of my morel pizza, when I came across an oddly familiar – and similar –  scene. A small cluster of shoppers were excitedly pawing through a pile of…stuff. I drew close. They were picking up, commenting upon, and shaking their heads over … banana flower buds.

Not one of the curious could figure out what to make of these alien looking “food” items, but when I saw them, two ideas fused in my brain: an image of tamales I’d eaten in the Yucatan many years ago, and my share of the previous day's oyster mushrooms.

The Yucatan tamales had been made with banana leaf wrappers, and were rich with fish and tropical-spiced sauces. Somehow the memory of this taste experience called for the umami I knew was locked in those mushrooms. So I grabbed a smallish bud and brought it home to experiment.

What I came up with stands as one of the best meals I’ve made all spring. I post the recipe knowing full well those buds may never appear in any of your local stores, and that few of you are mushroom foragers. However, you can track down canned banana leaves in markets in Latin neighborhoods, and oyster mushrooms are commercially available. Other mushrooms will do – what they primarily add is texture and richness.

Note: Please do not eat any wild mushroom unless you can absolutely, positively identify it!!!

Fish tamales with oyster mushrooms and sweet pepper sauce


1/2 lb thick-cut cod
1 sweet red pepper
2 -  3 medium garlic cloves
3 TBLS extra-virgin olive oil
2 TBLS unsalted butter
1 recipe corn meal masa (see May 12 2011 post)
1 medium-sized banana blossom (or several banana leaves)
@ 1/4 lb fresh oyster mushroom, sliced thin.
@ 1/2 – 1 tsp salt


Cut a hole in the sweet red pepper so that steam can escape, place it on a piece of aluminum foil, and set it on the broiler rack of your oven. Broil until the skin is black on all sides, turning frequently. During the last few minutes of broiling, add the garlic cloves.

Remove pepper and garlic. Melt butter on the foil and add the oyster mushroom slices, spreading them around so they form a single layer. Return to broiler and check every minute or so. Broil just enough so that the edges are browned. Remove and set aside.

Create a steamer by placing a heavy screen or thick, punctured sheet of aluminum foil atop ramekins in an oven broiler. Add about 2” of water to the broiler and set it on a stovetop burner.

When pepper is cool, strip away and discard the skin. Remove stem and seeds and shred pepper by hand. Chop garlic. Place garlic and pepper strips into a food processor. Blend to a thin paste, then add the olive oil to processor’s drip spout. Process to a thick orange sauce. (There will be leftover sauce. It freezes well.)

Peel apart the banana blossom. Into each petal, press masa, then a layer of mushrooms. Drizzle pepper sauce over this, then add a chunk of fish. You can tie up the petals into neat tamales or leave them open. I did the latter. Arrange these tamales into one layer in the broiler/steamer. Cover steamer, turn burner on high until water boils. Reduce heat to medium and steam for @ 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Note: If you want to spice up the table, make a hot sauce of coconut milk, chilpotle peppers and mesquite flour. It turns these tamales divine!

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