Wednesday, August 3, 2011


            Sometimes the world of fungi does not cooperate. That was the case recently when I took my friend Claudine Michaud in search of black trumpets (Chantherelles fallax) at a favorite site in Vermont. We came back from a 3 hour hike with barely a pint of the tasty, dark fungi.
NOT a Vermont haul. These trumpets (w/ chanterelles for color reference)
came from New Jersey in early July.

            I did score a culinary bounty, however: Lobster mushrooms. 8 small ones.

            When nature fails, I take a cheap shot: risotto.

            Now I realize that if your kitchen is un-air-conditioned, the idea of standing over a stove and stirring simmering rice for 20 minutes hardly constitutes a cheap shot.  To explain: risottos are such basic foods it hardly seems worthwhile to blog about them. The line, however, between good and great risottos is so fine it does seem fair to point out a few tricks.

            Mushroom risottos are my specialty. I hate to say it, but outside my own kitchen  I've had many substandard versions, including a few that cost more than $25. Generally the failures are in the realm of imagination: not enough thought as to which flavors compliment which mushrooms - but all too often they're the result of ordinary cheapness - insufficient amounts of mushrooms and super-abundant quantities of onions.

            Thus my attitude: make risottos when you've got enough to load a side dish or small entree with great flavor, and move on to something bigger when nature cooperates.

            I cook for two middle-aged adults with small appetites. The risottos I make are tiny, based on 3/4 cup of rice. It does not take many mushrooms to create generous flavor with that portion.

            When assembling ingredients I pay special attention to the fats as well as the bright flavors. In the spring, I make risottos with morels, to which I add small amounts of San André cheese, unsalted butter and olive oil. Chanterelles, an archetypal summer mushroom, respond better to Parmesan, butter and hazelnut oil. It's important to not overdo the cheese, though butter and oil are hard to have too much of. Chanterelles can take a bit of citrus, so shavings of orange peel or @ 1/4 tsp lemon juice work nicely.

Lobster mushrooms (orange) and chanterelles

            As noted above, my recent prize was lobster mushrooms, which presents a bit of a dilemma. More than one variety of mushroom can confuse a dish. This is especially true when the mushrooms have very different textures as well as flavors. Lobster mushrooms are crunchy with a shellfish underflavor. Chanterelles are melting-chewy with a fruity taste. To solve the potential clash, I incorporate the chanterelles into the risotto and add the lobster mushrooms at the end. This keeps the stove busy and angers the dishwasher but the results are superlative.


 Here is my recipe:

            Chanterelle risotto with lobster mushroom topping


1 - 2 cups chanterelle mushrooms, brushed clean and cut or torn into small pieces
1 - 2 cups lobster mushrooms, brushed clean and cut into @ 1/2" cubes (*)
3/4 cup arborio rice
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/3 medium onion, diced fine
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 TBLS lite olive oil
1 TBLS hazelnut oil
2 TBLS unsalted butter
@ 2 oz fresh grated, high-quality parmesan, such as Reggiano
1/4 - 1/2 tsp grated orange peel
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
(*) good supermarkets carry these mushrooms fresh in the produce section from about July through December. I do not use dried chanterelles - I find them to be leathery.


In a medium size saucepan, melt 1 TBLS of the butter over low heat. Add the chanterelles, stir, and adjust heat until they are barely simmering. Braise for 10 minutes, stir, and braise another 10.  Add the chicken broth and raise heat slightly, until this stock is barely boiling. Reduce heat to lowest setting.

Place a small skillet over a back burner on low heat. Melt the remaining butter. Add the lobster mushrooms and allow to simmer slowly while you continue making the risotto. You will need to stir the lobster mushrooms occasionally.

Place a second, medium size saucepan over medium-to-high heat. Add the olive oil, and when oil has reached a temperature just below the smoke point, add onions. Stir and cook until they have passed translucency and threaten to caramelize. At this point add the arborio rice. Allow rice to sit, unstirred, a minute or two, then stir to coat all grains with oil. Rest a minute, stir again, then add the wine. Stir constantly until wine is absorbed and rice/onion/wine/oil blend has reached a doughy thickness, then add @ 1/2 cup of the broth-with-chanterelles. Stir and allow to simmer.

Stir the risotto frequently (or constantly) adding mushroom stock every so often to replace what has been absorbed by the rice. After about 12 minutes you should begin taste-testing the rice. When rice has reached the point of just-beyond crunchy, reduce heat to low and stir in parmesan. Add salt. Add stock if necessary, being sure that all chanterelles are in the risotto. Stir well, add hazelnut oil and remove from heat. Stir in orange peel.

Assure that lobster mushrooms are adequately cooked. Scoop risotto into serving bowl. Pour lobster mushrooms over top, being certain to scrape all the bright red cooking oil onto risotto. Serve immediately

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