Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mushroom & Sherry Soup

They are known to form primordial bodies overnight. They can heal or be fatal. Some conjure dark magic. Some just taste delicious. Mushrooms are one of the culinary world’s most intriguing foodstuffs. Mushrooms are amazing. At least I think so. My devotion to them began after reading ‘Japanese Foods that Heal’ which lead to a Maitake/Hen-of-the-Woods pasta that is on this blog. They have been used for centuries as remedies and there are still many new discoveries being made. The most beneficial and newest research on fungi is focusing on cancer and HIV/AIDS medicines.
Armed with this devotion, I began searching out local mycophiles (mushroom foragers/experts). I found a NAMA certified group in Asheville, N.C. which is a few hours away. Charlotte Caplan was a great resource but was not as local as I needed. She pointed me in the direction of Robert Sprenger. He has been hunting around the triangle area for a few years but originally hails from Rochester, NY. He is a font of information when it comes to mushrooms. He began the Chatham Mushroom Club which leads family friendly foraging expeditions in Chatham County. Alycia, my Dad and I headed out to Pittsboro to meet the man and hunt some wild edible mushrooms. Solidly built and a bearded man of nature he is one of the most generous people I have met down here since our move. Generousity to strangers is a phenomenon that always surprises New Yorkers. He told us about the rich variety of premium wild fungi in the area; Maitake, Oyster, Puffballs, Lions Mane and Chicken of the Woods. He showed us his most highly regarded mushroom field guides and reference books. “Mycelium Running is the most important book on fungi. Stamets is a maverick and all his supposedly outlandish claims on mushrooms have proven to be true.” The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms was his other most trusted field guide for identification. Its lightweight, has a sturdy cover and fits in a pocket. WARNING: if you do go out hunting mushrooms, pair yourself up with an expert and seasoned forager. Check out the NAMA website for clubs in your area.
Sprenger is also test developing inoculation techniques for farmers to use. He inoculates logs with mycelium and has a small growing operation in his backyard. The goal is for farmers to have one extra crop to sell at a very low cost. He keeps the operation extremely low energy, basically off the grid which gives farmers another advantage. So far he is testing out maitake, shitake, oysters and a few other species. He gave me 4 logs (2 Oysters & 2 Shitake) to take home and try out. There is definitely a demand for mushrooms in this area and everywhere else there are talented chefs and their devotees.

So the recipe…since Careme, Escoffier and maybe before, Sherry has been the ultimate pairing for mushrooms. It is just one of those perfect marriages like butter and popcorn. This soup is simple. While the mushrooms in the recipe were wild, the recipe does not require that. If you do head out to forage after a frost, the mushrooms can be a bit dried out, a rinse with water perks them right back up. Like with all soups, a good long simmer really draws out the flavors. I used organic chicken broth. I love this brand because of how rich the color, flavor and texture are. I first tried out this recipe with Marsala wine; not as good. Then I picked up Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry. It’s a sweeter sherry and adds another flavor component to the soup. We also picked fresh baby scallions as seen in the photo below and used them as a garnish. They were growing a few yards apart from the Oyster mushrooms. What grows together goes together.
My favorite wine pairing with mushrooms and mushroom dishes is a Falanghina or a Fiano de Avellino; they simply don’t let the mushroom fade away.


1 ½ quarts Chx Broth (preferably Imagine Organic)
¼ cup of Harvey’s Cream Sherry
½ medium sized Onion
5 Sage leaves
1 lbs./16oz. Mushrooms
Salt & Pepper
Baby Scallions, Chives or Parsley for garnish

1. Pour chx broth into the same pot you boil pasta in. Let come to a boil.
2. Add mushrooms (we used oyster since that’s what we found. Portobello’s will work. I would not make the whole soup out of Button Mushrooms. Their flavor is mild so mix and match a few different mushrooms; Portobello, button, shitake, maitake,) etc. Destem if necessary. Add the onion, half the sherry, sage leaves some salt and pepper and let simmer for 25 minutes.
3. Add a bit more salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another 10 minutes at least.
4. Let the mixture cool. Puree in a blender.BE CAREFUL. Its hot liquid (if you didn’t let it cool enough) so have a dish towel ready. Puree in batches. Do not fill up the blender more than half way. Once half the blender is full, place the top on and a dish towel over that. Blend and puree. If there is a vent on the cap of the glass/plastic blender, have it open and have the dish towel over that. A blender works so much better than a food processor for soups. The soup will have a much smoother consistency from a blender. If you are feeling fancy strain the soup through a fine mesh sieve.
5. There is no cream or butter in this recipe. I found you don’t need it. By all means add it if you like. Pour the soup into bowls and garnish with the chives, parsley or scallions.
**The pictured soup was not pureed w/ a blender (it was temporarily out of service)

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