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October, 2011, Page 193
Photos by Beth Easterbrook
Fall is prime fungi season, so we’ve foraged and found some mouthwatering mushroom dishes at three of the Valley’s best restaurants.
5009 E. Washington St., Phoenix
Since 1947, this Arizona landmark has been known for its beef. Big, juicy slabs of aged steak and prime rib, served old-school style with a relish tray and basket of baking-soda biscuits. Yet proprietor Gary Lasko has another secret passion, and it involves digging in the dirt. He is a forager, scouring for edible treasures all over the country, including Arizona. He puts his picks on the Stockyards’ specials menu, and depending on season and availability, the selection might showcase wild black morels from Washington State, or porcinis, oyster mushrooms, lobster mushrooms and chanterelles from the Rocky Mountain region.
Such precious ’shrooms can be pricey – those morels commanded $10 for 2.5 ounces this summer – so, to allow their pure, smoky, woodsy charm to shine through, the kitchen uses a light touch, sautéing them quickly in a bit of butter, garlic, and salt and pepper. You can eat them à la carte, or they’re delicious piled atop the Stockyards’ steaks, buffalo meatloaf or blue cornmeal-crusted trout, elevating the meals with an earthy elegance.
Mushrooms also can be found year-round on the menu, featured in lavish, velvety recipes such as mushroom Rockefeller, mushroom strudel, and a sizzling mushroom skillet.
2534 N. Scottsdale Road,
Huitlacoche is also known as “corn smut,” which makes it a delightful culinary find, yes? But for all the exotic nuance, it’s just a fungus that grows on the kernels of certain corn cobs. Despite its rotten origins, the stuff tastes weirdly lovely and is considered a great delicacy in Mexico for its deep, musky notes reminiscent of truffle touched with a hint of corn.
As chef-owner of one of Scottsdale’s most authentic eateries, Azucena Tovar celebrates the distinctive flavors from her central Mexico hometown of San Miguel de Allende. But she loves to throw in extra fancy twists, such as tucking huitlacoche into crêpes.
Because the fungus’ flavor can be overpowering, she starts her crêpe batter with beer, then balances the dish with a stuffing of rich blue and goat cheeses, chipotle salsa, corn, onions and tomatoes. On top goes a thick sauce of goat cheese, cream cheese, cumin and more huitlacoche, followed by a drizzle of pomegranate reduction for a sweet-tart accent. It’s finished with a sprinkle of red onion, radish and pomegranate seeds. Tovar sources her huitlacoche from Florida, since the U.S. does not allow it to be imported from south of the border.
6000 E. Camelback Road
(The Phoenician), Scottsdale
There’s a reason Jean-Georges Vongerichten is considered one of America’s most ambitious chefs. Take his mushroom risotto. His recipe for what is often a simple dish spans nearly two pages, beginning with an herb-Thai red chile tea in which to cook the rice (Japanese nishiki rice instead of the more traditional Italian arborio). Even the accents are intricate, with a finishing flair of basil, chervil, mint and micro-planed Meyer lemon.
But the stars of his creamy, complex, melt-in-your-mouth specialty dish are the mushrooms. Following the Asian theme, the dish includes shiitakes, trumpet royals, Japanese honshimejis and hedgehogs, variously roasted, grilled and sautéed. It’s a time-intensive preparation, but according to Vongerichten, each mushroom needs different attention to entice the best flavors and also to prevent potential color “run” (who knew that if you don’t cook black trumpets separately, they turn all of the other ingredients black?).
And don’t think that his shopping list lets him simply stop at the nearest grocery, either. Securing the difficult-to-cultivate honshimejis poses the greatest challenge, though lately he has found luck with a professional mushroom grower in Oregon.
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