The new toast masters
A friend told me recently about a restaurant in Japan that only serves toast. In the US, the west coast is dotted with artisanal toast bars. Toast has become a stand-alone menu item, like waffles or eggs. It has crossed over.
Toast is the ultimate comfort food. Everyone can cook it, or just about everyone. I once lived with someone who couldn’t cook toast. He was a hairdresser. But it is the thing chefs eat most.
Avocado on toast is what has kept me alive for the past 10 years, I think. It’s quick and easy, and it’s a great vehicle for other things. Plus, bread doesn’t go off quickly – it can sit in the fridge for a fair while; until it starts developing pretty blooms, I suppose.
I find eating a piece of avocado on toast – with some goat’s cheese, olive oil and a few chilli flakes over it – is quite humbling. Often it will be the best thing I eat all day.
The base of this week’s recipe should be old-fashioned field mushrooms, which are best when their gills go dark and develop flavour. They’ve got good body, good flesh, and it feels as though you are eating something with substance. If their stems become dry and woody, which does happen, break them off and discard them before cooking.
With a field mushroom, I would usually cook some pine mushrooms and chestnut mushrooms. I select these based on texture and what they add to the field mushrooms. But they can be supplemented by the dozens of mushrooms that are now available commercially.
The green vegetable paste has been a staple at the restaurant for years. The leaves are blanched and then stewed down until they look awful. We call it military green. Its deep rich flavour works well with the poached eggs, but I’ve also served it alongside a piece of beef steak with a wedge of lemon.
The recipe asks for silverbeet or spinach, but rapini, sorrel or nettles could replace silverbeet or be used in addition.
Bread has not had a renaissance in this country, as far as I’m concerned. We’ve just discovered good bread. Australia worked out how to make sourdough 20 years ago. It has been part of that evolution of food, of eating. All these different elements have come on as staples rather than trends.
This has been good for toast, too. I think what is really nice about toast is when the bread is hand-cut. It sounds pedantic, but one of the things I like about toast is a big thick slice that really soaks up the juices of whatever is on top of it.
Wilted greens and poached eggs on toast
This green vegetable paste has been a staple in the restaurant kitchen for years, its deep rich flavours working well with poached eggs and also as a great accompaniment to a piece of beef steak.
– 1 bunch silverbeet, stalks removed
– 1 bunch spinach, stalks removed
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 onion, finely diced
– 1 clove garlic, diced
– 2 anchovy fillets
– 4 slices light rye bread
– 8 free-range eggs
– pinch chilli powder
– lemon wedge
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add the silverbeet and cook for one minute. Add the spinach and cook for two more minutes. Strain the lot and refresh in cold water. Squeeze any excess water from the greens, place on a chopping board and roughly chop.
Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a saucepan. Cook the onion until translucent, taking care not to let it colour. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute or so before adding the anchovies and the cooked greens.
Gently cook the greens, stirring from time to time, for up to 30 minutes, adding water if it seems dry and is starting to stick. When ready it should form an unattractive-looking green paste.
Just before you want to eat, grill or toast the bread. When it’s golden, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.
Add a few tablespoons of braised greens to each piece of toast and top with two poached or fried eggs. Season with a pinch of chilli and salt, and serve with a wedge of lemon on the side
Mushrooms on toast
– 6 slices best-quality sourdough bread
– 1 head garlic
– 4 tbsp cream
– ½ tsp salt
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1 tbsp butter
– 600g assorted mushrooms, stems removed
– 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
– salt and pepper
– 1 tbsp chopped parsley
– 1 tsp lemon juice
To make the garlic cream, wrap the head of garlic in foil. Bake for 30 minutes in a moderate oven until soft, then remove and set aside to cool. Squeeze the garlic from each clove into a small bowl. Add salt and mash with a fork. Gently stir the cream into the paste. Leave at room temperature as you cook the mushrooms.
Slice the mushrooms into even-sized pieces. In a large saucepan heat the olive oil and butter over a moderate heat. When the butter has melted and is starting to foam in the pan, add the mushrooms and turn up the heat. If you don’t think the pan can fit all the mushrooms, then cook them in two batches.
When the mushrooms are cooked and aromatic, add the ground cumin. Cook for a further minute or so. If the mushrooms are letting off some liquid, continue to cook over high heat until the liquid has reduced. Remove from the heat and season with salt and black pepper, then stir through the parsley and lemon juice.
Grill or toast the bread, spread with some garlic cream and spoon the mushrooms over the top.
2014 Jauma Jungwein, Adelaide Hills ($22) – Campbell Burton, sommelier, Builders Arms Hotel.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 3, 2014 as "The new toast masters". Subscribe here.