A Poor Man's Porcini, in a Silly Hat
By ALICE FEIRING
I FIRST saw the paper-white mushrooms, the shape of small garden gnomes, at the upscale markets. But at $16 to $20 a pound, I passed. However, when I saw a mountain of them at $5.50 a pound at a couple of indoor Chinatown markets, I biked home with a basketful.
Called king oyster mushrooms, they are the big brothers of oyster mushrooms, about seven inches long with bulbous, springy stems, topped by a dwarfed cap. They smell like fresh cream and taste of sweet earthiness, a poor man's porcini at about a quarter of the price.
After slicing them into mushroom silhouettes, I sauted them with shallot, thyme and a touch of soy. As fatty as porcini, they seared like crispy bacon. Dinner guests fought me for the last morsels. But it nagged me; I'd had these before - where?
King oyster mushrooms, or Pleurotus eryngii, are the same cardoncellos I had gorged myself on in Puglia about five years ago, when I had them deep-fried. They can be found wild in the United States, but now they are mostly cultivated mushrooms.
American chefs have recently caught on to them. Order mushrooms in 5 Ninth, Cru or Aureole, and you're likely to find king oysters beefing up the dish.
Dante Boccuzzi, the chef at Aureole, sometimes uses them as crusts for tofu or treats them like sirloin. But his pickled version with rosemary, garlic and coriander, with a swirl of late spring ramps, surprised my palate. "They sponge up the brine," he said. Yet in the seared dish, the mushrooms stayed crunchy.
After being smitten I now think that whether they are $5 a pound or $20, king oysters are a versatile indulgence.
Adapted from Aureole
Time: 15 minutes, plus 2 hours for marinating
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
8 ounces king oyster mushrooms, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 ramp leaves (or substitute scallion greens)
1 cup olive oil
12 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup red wine
1 cup red-wine vinegar
Dash soy sauce
3 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons salt, or as needed.
1. Toast coriander seeds in a dry skillet over low heat just until fragrant. Transfer to a plate and set aside. In a medium heatproof bowl, combine mushrooms and ramp leaves and set aside.
2. Place oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add garlic and saut until golden. Add toasted coriander seeds, wine, vinegar, soy sauce, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf and ½ cup water. Add 2 tablespoons salt, tasting and adding more as needed, taking care not to under salt.
3. Increase heat and bring mixture just to a boil. Pour hot liquid over mushrooms and ramp leaves. Allow to stand uncovered for 2 hours. Strain and serve, reserving liquid for salad dressing or pickling.
Yield: 4 servings.