Fruits of the forage
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We are now in the middle of wild mushroom season. Pine mushroom is probably my favourite, for its flavour and texture – a slight woody taste and a slightly firmer texture. They are also quite pretty, with their pastel colours. They look like the woods they’ve come from.
I also like morels, but they come later in the season and are only around for one or two weeks. The morel mushroom has a kind of honeycomb exterior. It’s incredibly popular in Europe. It has a very delicate texture and a great depth of flavour. It’s a different flavour to the better-known porcini, but it is just as intense. The morel mushroom pairs well with beef and, to be honest, most meat. I would have to add that the morel is one of the few dried mushrooms that reconstitutes reasonably well.
The other wild mushroom that’s abundant and available through the season is the slippery jack mushroom. Its flavour is okay, but its texture reflects its name. I mostly avoid it. It sounds too much like the nickname of someone I used to play footy with.
Wild mushrooms need to be handled with care. They are quite fragile. When I buy them – or pick them, being very careful to source only ones I am certain are edible – I always place them in a dry paper bag in an airtight container until I am ready to use them. They last in the fridge for one or two days, but deteriorate more quickly than cultivar varieties. As I use the mushrooms, I’ll clean them with a slightly damp cloth to brush away any dirt or friendlies. It’s worth giving special attention to the gills underneath. I trim most of the stalk, which usually ends up in a stockpot.
This is the quintessential pub dish: a big porterhouse steak with mushroom sauce or pepper or both on the plate. It has fallen from grace a little bit, partly, I think, because of the cream that is forced into it. It could also be that too many pubs use poor mushrooms that are cultivated and full of water and lack the personality you find in wild mushrooms.
But the basics of the flavour combination work, and are worth pursuing. In this recipe, I’ve also gone for a more interesting cut of meat. Much as the porterhouse has its place – it ticks a lot of boxes: a good balance of flavour and structure, ages well – I’ve opted instead for a bavette.
Bavette is also known as a skirt steak. Technically, it’s an inside skirt from within the animal’s body cavity. It has a very concentrated, clean beef flavour. The trade-off is texture – it’s slightly firmer than a porterhouse or eye fillet. But it’s worth it for the taste.
The primeval urge to cook over burning embers is a treat (when
I have the time). Otherwise I crank up the gas barbecue in a flash.
– 1 head of garlic
– 2 large cipollini onions
– 1 tbsp cream
– 1 600g bavette
– sea salt
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 3 large pine mushrooms, sliced
– 1 tbsp butter
– 1 tsp lemon juice
Preheat your oven to 180ºC. Wrap the garlic and onions in a large sheet of aluminium foil. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the onions and garlic are tender. Remove the onions, peel and set aside. Separate the cloves from the garlic head and squeeze the cooked and soft garlic from each clove into a small bowl. Add one tablespoon of cream to the garlic and stir to make a thin sauce-like puree, adding a little more cream if needed and seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to serve.
An hour before you plan to cook the meat, season both sides of the steak with plenty of sea salt. Leave the steak on a dinner plate covered with plastic wrap to come to room temperature.
Meanwhile, prepare your barbecue. If you are using wood, start preparing your fire well in advance. If you are using wood or coal, ensure the flames have subsided. A bed of hot coals are the ticket.
Pat dry the steak and brush with the bare minimum of oil. Place on the hottest part of the barbecue. As the steak sputters and smokes the outer fat may render creating possible fat flares. Move the steak away from any flames that may flare up. As you move the steak about, check the underside from time to time as it cooks. A dark golden crust is desirable. Once a good crust has been established, turn the meat and continue to cook until a crust forms on the other side. Once this has been achieved, turn the meat every two minutes or so until cooked to your desired “doneness”. If in doubt of its state, remove the meat from the heat and rest it for a few minutes. If it seems a little underdone for your liking, you can always cook it a little further as the barbecue will still be hot.
While the steak is resting, warm the olive oil and butter in a frypan. When the butter has melted, add the mushrooms. Sauté the mushrooms for three minutes and continue to toss in the pan from time to time. Season with a pinch of salt and one teaspoon of lemon juice.
To serve, carve the steak and arrange on one tablespoon of the garlic puree. Arrange the mushrooms and cipollini onions alongside the steak.
2013 Pipoli Vigne del Vulture aglianico, Basilicata, Italy ($17) – Liam O’Brien, head sommelier, Cutler & Co
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 25, 2016 as "Steak and mushrooms".
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