by Jacque Malouf
photos by Tara Fisher
Published by Conran Octopus
96 pages, 2004
Reviewed by Aaron Blanton
No matter where I've lived in the world, there is always a certain time of year that makes one think of mushrooms. And not the anemic little kept-in-the-dark kind of store-bought mushrooms one finds at the market in North America. No: I'm talking about the sort of mushrooms one has to sneak up on in the forest, then -- once safely in your basket -- you carry them home in order to send them off to heaven with a little butter and some garlic. Or -- failing the forest, the will or the courage -- a very good specialty market that will sell me mushrooms with the flavor I crave. Wild mushrooms. Golden chantrelles, merry little cépes, proud Augustus in the autumn. Morels in the spring.
One finds them. Or buys them. One carts them home. And then what? There is little I like better than mushrooms sautéed in butter and garlic, but there has to be more to life than that. Other wonderful ways of preparing mushrooms. Not necessarily better ways, but different. As Jacque Malouf (not that Malouf) notes in Mushrooms:
We're all familiar with the irresistible aroma of mushrooms sizzling in the frying pan, but the huge range of varieties now available means that there are many more ways to cook them.
Exactly. And even if you wanted to eat sautéed mushrooms all the time, there are some mushrooms that are best prepared in other ways. Like Sautéed Wild Mushroom Salad with Bacon and Croutons. Like Spaghetti with Crimini Mushrooms, Pancetta, Chilli and Garlic. Like Wild Mushroom Open Lasagne. Like Portabello Mushroom, Lemon Thyme and Goat's Cheese Flan. Like Crispy Potato Cake Filled with Mixed Mushrooms, Sage and Fontina Cheese. Like... well, obviously I could go on. At least another 60 times. But you get the idea: Malouf has included over 70 recipes, all quite different from each other.
Though Malouf's descriptions could benefit from some simplification, the recipes are not overly complex. Especially since, when you add the word "mushroom" to anything, it sounds extra sophisticated.
Tara Fisher's photos are good, as is the food styling. All of the food looks both inviting and approachable: a winning combination.
Despite all of these positive things, Mushrooms is not the book it could have been. Was it Bono that said: Great is what happens when good enough goes home? No one pushed here and good enough never left. One wants to come away from a very specialized book such as this one feeling as though they've learned something about the topic. I didn't. Beyond the most basic sort of advice on mushroom selection, Malouf chooses to impart nothing beyond how to deal with each recipe. How, for instance, did she select which mushrooms to use in each recipe. Would mushroom substitutions be acceptable? Especially in recipes like Baked Gnocchi in Sautéed Trompettes de Mort and Pied Bleu Mushrooms in a Gorgonzola Cream Sauce. Both trompettes de mort and pied bleus are extreme exotics in my market. I wouldn't even know where to begin to look for them. I don't even know what they look like or what their properties are. And while the recipe says that they can be substituted with "other wild mushrooms" this is simply not enough information. Wild mushrooms vary... er... wildly. A lobster mushroom and a shaggy mane have very different qualities on the palate: not just in taste, but in texture. What would be the best substitute? Malouf doesn't tell us.
If you want to know a lot more about mushrooms, you might do better with David W. Fischer and Alan E. Bessette's Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America: A Field-To-Kitchen Guide . However, if you want to increase your repertoire of things to do with mushrooms, you'll be very satisfied with this book. | October 2004
Aaron Blanton is an expatriate Kentuckian writer and musician living in Scotland. He refuses to eat haggis.