Shaggy Mane Mushrooms
As my work season is winding down I've got a slew of blog posts in the bag that I plan on posting semi-regularly - two or three times a week I think - over the next four or so months. I've been sharing images and a few thoughts on our facebook page over the summer, and maybe I'll pull some of those into something more blog post-like over fall and winter too. Lately I've been sharing images of shaggy mane mushrooms we've been finding over the last week, and one of my FB friends just asked, on my personal page, how to prepare them...just as I was finishing making soup. Well, the Packers are just about to kickoff against the Vikings and I've got the time to share that recipe right now while the game is on (Go Pack!).
Shaggy Mane, aka Inky Caps, are popping up all over town right now. I've been hopping out of the car pretty regularly to cut them from the grassy edges of sidewalks, parks, unmowed fields, under lone trees in gravely parking lots, close to fish cleaning stations and even on the lawn by the Post Office. They're easily identifiable (I won't go into identification details in this post; you can find that information in lots of places online), very fragile and ephemeral. Once you pick them you better be ready to prepare them asap or clean and freeze them, or you'll have an inky mess before long.
They are self-digesting, going from a soft though semi-firm state to a dripping, black inky liquid. You'll find them from small, little button-sized knobs to large, 6-inch-plus, shaggy vertical torpedoes. You'll also often find them in various states of disintegration in the same spot. You want the ones that are semi-firm, white and as closed as possible at the stem and cap junction. Their outer skin may be a little rough in appearance and texture, or peeling in numerous curling flakes not unlike the appearance of a fat, whittled fuzz stick, the kind used by Boy Scouts and woodsmen to get a fire going.
These are really not the kind of mushroom you saute' or fry like you might a button or morel mushroom. They're too insubstantial for that, too water-bound. But I've had good luck slicing the firmest ones into ¼ inch length-wise chips and flash frying over high heat in bacon grease til browned. We'll do that very thing for a garnish with this soup. These are very mild mushrooms, and have a soft, gentle earthy flavor not unlike the button mushrooms you might get at the grocer.
To clean the mushrooms simply rinse under cold running water with a little thumb rubbing to remove grass and dirt. Sometimes the outer shaggy surface skin will very easily peel or rub off, leaving you with a smooth, egg-like mushroom. There's no need to remove the stalk, so keep the cap and stalk together. Here's the super simple and tasty soup recipe. My brother stopped over as I was finishing cooking and he declared it to be "Excellent! Delicious."
5 to 7 cups shaggy mane mushrooms, roughly chopped
1½ to 2 cups chicken or beef stock (I used beef this time, because it's what I had on hand)
1 to 1½ cups whole milk
couple tbl spoons butter
couple onions or shallots, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, diced
Sea salt and cracked pepper
Handful of small, nice, firm mushrooms, sliced length-wise, ¼" thick
1. Saute' over medium heat the onion/shallots and garlic in a stock pot until soft.
2. Add chopped mushrooms and continue cooking for several minutes. If it looks like you're getting too much water in the pot, raise the heat and cook some of that off quickly, but don't compromise the integrity of the mushrooms.
3. Salt and pepper.
4. Add the chicken or beef stock, turn the heat down a bit and continue simmering for several minutes.
5. Add the milk and continue simmering, being careful not to burn or curdle the milk.
Once everything in the pot is well acquainted turn the heat off and allow to cool a bit. While cooling, add a tablespoon or two of bacon fat to a skillet, get it hot and gently lay the sliced mushroom pieces in the hot fat. Let the pieces brown on one side before gently turning them over to brown on the other side. It shouldn't take but a few short minutes. Place the pieces on paper towel to drain.
When the soup mixture cools enough to blend in a food processor go ahead and blend in small batches until smooth. Return to pot and if the soup looks too watery you can make a roux and add to thicken it up. Heat and serve, adding a dollop of sour cream, chopped chives and a few browned mushroom slices for garnish. Shaggy Mane Soup...it's quick, simple and very mushroomy.