~ Decadent & Divine Silky Shiitake Mushroom Soup~
I was a child 'shroomer. I loved mushrooms. Faced with a plate of sauteed mushrooms or a bowl of mushroom soup, most kids I knew would cry or retch, or both. Mushrooms tend not to bring out the best in children. Not me. I'm pretty sure it was because 'hunting 'shrooms' (picking mushrooms) was one of the things my dad and I did together. We went 'shrooming together. Interestingly enough, I was not an outdoors kinda kid. My mother always called me "her little mushroom" because I preferred to stay in my neat and organized pink bedroom quietly reading, drawing and redecorating my Barbie dream house. Looking at me now, not much has changed!
In the late Spring or early Summer, always when we experienced a few weeks of rainy, damp days, there would be a week or two afterward when my dad would say to my brother and I "put your boots on and get your buckets". We knew that meant we were going into the woods across the street to pick mushrooms. This was the one outdoor activity that I did not have to be put on a leash and drug, kicking and screaming, into participating. In minutes, I was standing out on the driveway clad in my pink hat, pink sweater and a pair of God-aweful green, goofy-looking plastic boots. Sans the pink, my brother was similarly clad in hat, sweater and goofy boots. Carrying our buckets, we started into the woods, following dad like a couple of flop-footed ducklings.
At the outset, dad would always stop to choose a large "walking stick". Throughout the hunt, dad used it to rustle through thick layers of wet leaves. Later in life, I came to find out that dad didn't do this to clear a path for us, but as a precaution against snakes. Snakes were also the reason we were made to wear those ugly plastic boots. If I had known at the time that snakes were involved, I'm certain my entire perspective of 'shrooming would be different!
Dad was looking specifically for one kind of mushroom and he called them "poh-pinky". These small, round, honey-colored mushrooms grew in clusters and clumps in and around the fallen oak trees (which our forest was full of). If it was a "good year", damp and rainy, we'd find so many that we'd go back later in the day, again the next day, or for several days to pick buckets and buckets of them. If it was a "bad year", we'd be lucky to find any.
After each hunt, mom would spend as many hours as it took to clean and briefly parboil them. After that, they would show up sauteed in butter and onions as a side-dish to dinner that evening, and, with or in scrambled eggs for breakfast the next day. There was no retching or crying involved -- my brother and I inhaled them. After parboiling, the rest were cooled, portioned, packaged and frozen. While they showed up on our table throughout the year, one big package was always saved for our traditional Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve feast.
I don't live across the street from a forest full of fallen oak trees any more, and, even if I did, I'm not sure I'd enjoy the adventure of 'shroom hunting like I did when I was a kid. Luckily, I do live in Pennsylvania, a state well-known for its mushrooms and mushroom farms, so I have a wide variety available to me -- but not popinky. That said, the Shiitake mushroom is extremely close in flavor and texture. Special ordering them insures they are plump and fresh, not dry and woody.
We Eastern Europeans know a thing or two about mushrooms, so, when we tell you Shiitakes are the closest to one or two of our 'heritage mushrooms', rely upon it. Originally from Japan and Korea, the Shiitake (shee-TAH-kay), when cultivated in the USA (California, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Virginia) is often referred to as "The Golden Oak".
This relatively easy to make Shiitake mushroom soup is a favorite recipe of mine. It is rich, hearty, decadent and divine. The meaty flesh of the Shiitake mushroom cap has a full-bodied flavor that pairs perfectly with beef stock, so: When I make this soup, always right after I make a big batch of homemade beef stock, I order 6 pounds Shiitake mushrooms -- I wisely make enough soup to freeze for four more luscious soup-meals. As for the rest of the ingredients:
1 1/2-2 pounds yellow or sweet onion, halved and sliced into 1/4" strips
12 ounces unsalted butter (3 sticks)
12 tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy (3/4 cup)
3 quarts beef stock, preferably homemade, my recipe or yours, or canned broth
3 large, whole bay leaves
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1-1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, more or less, to taste
1-1 1/2 teaspoons white pepper, more or less, to taste
dry sherry (optional)
~ Step 3. Increase heat to medium-high and saute, stirring occasionally at first and almost constantly towards the end, until mushrooms have lost almost all of their moisture and over half of their volume. This will take about 10-12 minutes.
Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mushroom mixture is thick and the bottom of the pan is dry, about 1-2 minutes.
Thoroughly stir and adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer. Taste the soup about about 2 minutes into simmering. Add the salt and white pepper to taste. Continue to simmer until soup is nicely thickened, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat.
~ Step 6. While the soup is sublime and technically ready to serve immediately, my recommendation is to cover the pan and allow it to steep for 1-2 hours, or, refrigerate overnight. Then, reheat it to a steamy state. Serve each portion with a splash of dry sherry in it:
Enjoy every last happy drippy slurp of this one:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon; soup ladle
Cook's Note: As you can imagine, if you have homemade beef stock on hand in your freezer, this soup is simply out of this world. You can find ~ Mel interrupts Christmas to bring you: Beef Stock ~ in Categories 15 & 22!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)