I remember the place, the smells, the sights, the sounds and the flavours. It was Paris, the rain had given the air a smell of freshness while the December air gave it a sense of invigorating briskness. Christmas lights lite up the Champs Elysees while Zucchero played on the public sound system. It was here in the Christmas Market where we first tasted the most magnificent, magical mushrooms.
The vendor had a giant cauldron of mushrooms swimming in thick cream. He took a huge ladle and scooped some of the steaming mushrooms into a cup. One for me, one for my son. We walked along the market, eating mushrooms and shopping for Christmas presents. It was magnificent.
Now I’m back and those incredible mushrooms haunt me. I have to make them. I’ve tried many French recipes for creamed mushrooms and just general mushroom recipes that add cream but I’ve never come close to the mushroomy flavours of a cool, December day in Paris.
I stumbled across this awful recipe for mushrooms in a bread cup. So I made it, but it didn’t work. This is another thing about food writers – we absolutely hate it when a recipe is designed for a great picture instead of taking amazingly good food and having it make love to the camera. There really is some talent involved in this job you know!
Anyway, these are the things that haunt a food writer. We travel (usually in packs) around the world tasting food from simple home kitchens to food prepared by the best chefs and every so often we fall in love with a dish, a flavour or a new food. When we do, we are exhilarated, enchanted and burning with a thirst to recreate it in our own studio kitchens. And we don’t give up until we do.
And I have. I wish I could say it was a combination of a few recipes but we never keep track of the process, an idea from this one, an ingredient from another and before long you have something that doesn’t resemble anything you started with. And this is how this recipe came about. I hope you enjoy it.
If you do happen to make this one, try eating it with your eyes closed and visualizing the romantic Christmas Market in Paris. It would help if you put Zucchero on the stereo first and open the windows so the brisk spring air blows on your face. If this is the closest you get to Paris – savour every mouthful!
Memory of Paris Mushrooms
4 shallots, minced
4 tablespoons (60 mL) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (60 mL) cognac
1 1/2 pounds (.75 kg) fresh white mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and quartered
1 1/2 pounds (.75 kg) fresh brown mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and quartered
2/3 cup (160 mL) heavy cream
2/3 cup (160 mL) chicken (or vegetable) broth
2 teaspoons (10 mL) mild paprika
½ cup (125 mL) fresh parsley, minced
2/3 cup (160 mL) sour cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a deep 12-inch skillet, cook shallots in butter over medium low heat until softened, abut 3 minutes. Add cognac, stir and cook over moderate heat for another minute. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add cream, chicken broth, paprika and season well. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to half, about 20 to 25 minutes. It will take longer than you think because as the liquid evaporates, the mushrooms give off twice as much water. Remove skillet from heat and stir in parsley and sour cream. Serves 2 as a main snack!