#426 Mushrooms in Snuffboxes


Life is too short to stuff a mushroom

Shirley Conran

Goodness knows what Shirley Conran would have thought of this recipe then! It’s the last one in the Vegetableschapter of the book and I have put it off since the beginning, because life’s definitely too short to build a bread snuffbox and stuff it with mushrooms.
A French gold snuffbox (Christie’s)

Another reason I’ve put this one off is that Jane says it’s a ‘good recipe for stretching a few field mushrooms’, and I have been unlucky when it comes to foraging for this type of fungus. I either find just one or two miniscule specimens, or loads of shaggy inkcaps, which aren’t great and prone to decaying very quickly. Well I ran out of patience and bought some nice organic Portobello mushrooms from the excellent grocery store, Unicorn in Chorlton, Manchester.

This is a very calorific recipe: lots of butter, fried bread, cream and sherry. If you make it and next day wake up with gout, don’t run crying to me: you were warned.

Jane doesn’t say whether this a single course or an accompaniment to something else. I had mine with some bitter, dark kale to offset the richness.

She also doesn’t give us any amounts – ‘a system rather than a proper recipe’, she says. Here’s what I did:

I cut slices of breadfrom a tin loaf two inches thick and removed the crust. I reckoned I had enough mushrooms to fill two ‘snuffboxes’. I melted some butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and got to work frying the bread. It needs frying on all sides, so you may find you have to add more butter.

Take the giant croutons out of the pan, add more butter and fry a finely chopped onion until golden, then add your mushrooms, which can be sliced, halved or left whole, depending upon size. Season with saltand pepper. Some mushrooms let out a lot of juice, so get the heat turned up so it can evaporate, before turning back down to medium heat.

Whilst you wait for the mushrooms to cook, cut lids into your snuffboxes about half an inch deep. I wasn’t sure if she meant to cut a square from the top, or that you should just slice the top off, so I tried both to see which looked best. Remove the bread from the inside so that you have a box of fried bread; this was actually very easy to do, the bread within was hot and fluffy and just lifted out.

Keep them warm in the oven as you finish the mushroom mixture: mix in a teaspoon of flour, and once incorporated, plenty of double cream(I used a 150 ml pot) to form a smooth sauce. Add a dash of sherry if you like and check the seasoning. Spoon the mixture into the snuffboxes, replace the lids and serve.

#426 Mushrooms in Snuffboxes. As is often the case with the book English Food, the recipes one doesn’t want to cook, turn out to be the most delicious; and these snuffboxes were very delicious indeed. What’s more, they weren’t particularly difficult to make. It’s tricky to know what to serve them with. I suggest making them smaller and serving them with a watercress salad for a great first course. Alternatively, make large ones and serve alongside roast game for a family meal. 8/10

#296 Tongue and Mushroom Crumble

Around fifteen minutes after deciding to cook all the recipes in English Food, I had a first proper look through the good book. It was then I realised that some of the recipes were pretty bizarre, and this one stood out; I had not eaten tongue then, but now I have done a couple of tongue-based recipes so I wasn’t squeamish. Though a tongue crumble is still a bit weird. I made this and took it round to a small gathering of friends to try. There were mixed attitudes…

There’s not much of an introduction to this recipe – Griggers says nothing about it in the book and after an internet search, I was also none the wiser. Recipes did crop up, but there was, alas, no background or history to it. Here’s a nice painting with an ox tongue in it though:

Calf’s Head and Ox Tongue by Gastave Caillebotte, 1882

To make the dish, you need to start with pickled tongue weighing around 3 ½ pounds – you can use any tongue you like: ox, calf or pig (I went with ox). You can pickle them yourself (look here for a post that fills you in on this) or get them pre-brined by the butcher. The tongues should be just lightly brined, so if you are doing your own, just leave them in the brine for a day or two. If it’s from the butcher’s shop, you’d be best to soak the tongue(s) overnight in cold water as they may have been in his brine crock for quite a while.

Place the tongue(s) in a stockpot along with a chopped onion and carrot, a bouquet garni and half a pint of dry cider. Top up with water to just cover. Bring slowly to the boil, skim if you need to, and simmer very gently until cooked – this could be one hour for pig, 90 minutes to two hours for calf and three hours for ox. You can tell a tongue is ready if a skewer goes in without much resistance. Don’t worry if you cook it too long, as long as the water was barely simmering, the tongue will still be moist, this because tongue is a fatty meat, around 70% fat in fact.

Take the tongue out of the pot, but keep the stock, let the tongue cool slightly so you can peel the skin off and cut away the sinew from the blunt end. There are some quite large blood vessels and sinew running along the underside of a tongue, so turn it over and cut that away too.

Now slice the tongue, removing any more gristle as you go – there is none as you approach half way. Arrange the tongue on the bottom of a buttered ovenproof dish. Next cook down 4 ounces of sliced mushrooms in one ounce of butter and scatter them over the tongue. Whilst they are cooking, finely chop a medium onion and cook it gently in two ounces of butter – cover the pan so it doesn’t brown. Once softened, stir in a rounded dessertspoon on plain flour and let it cook for a couple of minutes. Whisk in 6 tablespoons of dry white wine. It will instantly thicken. Thin it out with some of the stock until you have a sauce the consistency of thin gravy. Cook for a few minutes, adding more stock should the sauce become too thick, season and pour it over the tongue and mushrooms.

Next, make the topping by making some fresh white breadcrumbs using a blender. Griggers says to use 1 ½ ounces of bread, but you may need more. Sprinkle this over the tongue and sauce and bake in an oven preheated to 190°C (375°F) until all is bubbling. Because everything has been cooked already, it is just a heat-through that’s required, so it can all be made in advance.

Hannah gets a good lungful of tongue.
That sounded less gross in my brain than when read out loud.

#296 Tongue and Mushroom Crumble. Like most of the weird recipes in the book, this savoury crumble was pretty good. The corned tongue was very tender indeed and well flavoured too, and the mushroom lent an earthiness that always goes well with anything beefy. Much, much better than I expected 6.5/10.

#229 Vegetable Souffle

A quick one this one.

I made this vegetable soufflé for my mates Stuart and Jamie when they popped round to watch a DVD and have a few drinks. Stuart is a vegetarian and has never had a soufflé, which I find unbelievable as they appear often as the veggie option on menus. It’s like being vegetarian and saying you never had a mushroom risotto! I’ve not added a photo – there’s been a few soufflés now and they all seem to look the same.

Anyways, to make it, soften some onion and a garlic clove in some butter and add to it some cooked, pureed vegetables, about 7 ounces – spinach would work well. I went for mushrooms; I didn’t puree them, instead I diced them and softened them in the pan with the onions. Now follow the method for the cheese soufflé, though I used half the amount of cheese in it. Fold the vegetables into the mixture before adding the whisked egg whites.

#229 Vegetable Soufflé. These soufflés have all been great thus far. The mushroom and cheese combination is a great one; happily marrying the rich creamy salty tang of the Cheddar with the earthy mushrooms. Very good. 8.5/10

#222 Guinea Fowl Braised with Mushrooms

The poultry section of English Food has not been tackled much; I don’t know why, because I’m a big fan of poultry. Anyways, walked through the Arndale Market in Manchester City Centre, I spotted that the butcher had some Guinea fowl – not something you really see these days out of specialist poulterers, so I thought I should snap one up as I had the opportunity (I also bought some corn-fed chickens so that I can address the lack of poultry recipes tackled later).

Guinea fowl is very popular in France, but are not so in Britain these days, though they were once considered very nutritional and perfect food for invalids, so why for a nation of sickly pasty folk, we don’t eat them by the bucketful I don’t know. In Burkina Faso, braised Guinea fowl are given to women that have just given birth. So there you go; prolong your life with a Guinea fowl dinner.

This recipe serves 3 to 4 people: Start by browning a Guinea fowl all over in butter and then placing it in a reasonably tight-fitting casserole dish breast down and dot it with two further ounces of butter. Now finely chop a medium-sized onion and sprinkle it around the sides of the bird and season. Cover tightly with lid or foil and bake for 30 minutes at 190⁰C. Meanwhile, slice 12 ounces of mushrooms and season them with salt, pepper and lemon juice (why Griggers says to do this now, I do not know), and when the 30 minutes is up, turn the fowl breast-side up and tuck the mushrooms in down the sides. Replace the lid and bake for another 40 minutes, taking the lid off for the final ten, so that the Guinea fowl can brown. Allow everything to rest for 20 minutes, then remove the bird and cut into eight pieces: two thighs, two drumsticks and four pieces of breast. Dish them up with the mushrooms and pour over the remaining buttery gravy. Serve with potatoes or bread.

My lens steamed up, sorry!

#222 Guinea Fowl Braised with Mushrooms. This was the first time I’d eaten it, and it did not disappoint. The flesh tasted like a very rich chicken and was a little gamey; so something between a chicken and pheasant (in fact, Griggers says that all Guinea fowl and pheasant recipes are interchangeable). Briasing it in butter made the meat extremely moist and succulent, the slightly earthy mushrooms offsetting it all very well. Great stuff – and easy 8/10.

#134 Mushrooms, or the Pearls of the Field

The male cook/chef that seems to appear often in English Food is one Alexis Soyer – he wrote a book called Shilling Cookery for the People in 1854. I’ve done one of his recipes before (reproduced in English Food) using oranges. This one is a method of doing good service to a large field mushroom, should you find one, as I did in Asda the other day. I thought I’d quote what he says about this dish straight from English Food as the language is brilliant, though the people for whom he was writing probably thought he was a right old ponce:

“Being in Devonshire, at the end of September and walking across the fields before breakfast to a small farmhouse, I found three very fine mushrooms, which I thought would be a treat, but on arriving at the house I found it had no oven, a bad gridiron and a smoky coal fire. Necessity, they say, is the mother of Invention, I immediately applied to our grand and universal mamma, how should I dress my precious mushrooms, when a gentle whisper came to my ear…”

This is what he did:
Place the mushroom on a round, or rounds of toast, depending on size, that have been spread with clotted cream (I had some left from the junket I made the other day). Have the mushroom stalk side up and spread that with more cream. Season well and place in inverted Pyrex dish over it and bake in a hot oven (200°C) for 30 minutes. He used a glass tumbler – to prevent the smoke spoiling the flavour of his precious mushrooms. It’s a good method, as it does keep all the mushroom juices in.


He goes on to say:
“The sight when the glass is removed, is most inviting, its whiteness rivals the everlasting snows of Mont Blanc, and the taste is worthy of Lucullus. Vitellius would never have dined without it; Apicius would never have gone to Greece to seek for crawfish; and had he only half the fortune left when he committed suicide, he would have preferred to have left proud Rome and retire to some villa or cottage to enjoy such an enticing dish.”

OK…

#134 Mushrooms, or the Pearl of the Fields – 8/10. I have to say, although he talks a load of nonsense, he knows how a treat a mushroom fairly. This simple supper dish is maybe the best way to show off the earthy flavour of those large meaty, juicy field/Portabello mushrooms. The clotted cream soaked into the crispy bread and also formed a rich sauce in the cap. Brilliant.

#41 Mushroom Omelette

Well, well, well, it has been a while since I’ve updated the old blog. I’ve been busy and skint in equal measure so far this month. It’s gruel for me for now on, I think. Inamongst the business, I have managed to get a couple of dishes done at the weekend. Greg hs been quite ill with tonsillitis, so I was only allowed to make soft food, so I did (#41) Mushroom Omelette. I don’t know why I hadn’t done it before. It’s interesting that the omelette is considered English, as it is is obviously French, but we always see them in the English section of any Indian restaurants menu. The recipe that Jane Grigson gives here is very much an English omelette. Whenever I make one, it is always more French, i.e. pull the cook egg into the middle and don’t let it colour. I use eggs, a dot of milk, salt and pepper, plus butter to fry it in of course.

This recipe is enough for 6, so decrease – or increase – the amounts as you see fit. Cook a chopped medium onion in 2 ounces of butter until it softens, then add 12 ounces of good mushrooms that have been sliced – e.g. the dark-gilled Portobello – the juices will come out after a few minutes, so turn uo the heat so that just a small amount of the cooking juices are left. Make the omelette itself beat together 9 eggs very well, season and add a tablespoon of chopped herbs – parsley and chives are recommended by Jane – and pour a third of the mixture into an 8 inch omelette pan that had been heated with a knob of butter. Cook until the underside had set and turned slightly golden. Spoon a third of the mushrooms down the centre of the omelette and fold it over. Keep the omelettes warm as you cook them, or serve individually. Don’t worry if the eggs are a little runny – they will continue to cook, and should be a little moist..

#41 Mushroom Omelette – 7/10. The dish was very nice indeed – not as light as a French-style omelette, but the centre was perfectly cooked – still creamy as it should be. The dense mushroom mixture complemented it perfectly. I will do my omelettes in the English style from now on and see if I can improve on it.

Creamy Mushroom Pasta

This is one of my favorite recipes. It’s pretty easy, but requires a little care and attention – it’s the slow-cooking of the onions and mushrooms that make this dish. It’s based on a dish that an Italian chap called Luigi gave my Mum. I’m sure it’s got an exciting Italian name, though I’ve no idea what it would be. It’s originally made with chicken, mushrooms and cream, but I’ve faffed about with it. I do put chicken in it from time to time, but as mushrooms are one of my favorites, I’ve ended making this meal my mushroom fix. Use the best mushrooms you can find – my favorite are the dark-gilled Portobello mushrooms – they give a good earthy taste. I’ve also changed the double cream of the original recipe to creme fraiche, as it gives a slight piquant zing, that compliments the sweet, slightly chewy caramelised onions very well.

You will need:
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
6 tbs good olive oil
8oz (250g) mushrooms, sliced
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, or half a generous tsp of dried (oregano could be used instead)
around 5 tbs of creme fraiche (or double cream)
salt and pepper
freshly ground nutmeg
whole wheat pasta

What to do:

  1. Fry the onions in the oil on a medium heat along with the thyme in a large, heavy frying pan. Cook the onions gently – don’t let them change colour yet.
  2. After 8-10 minutes, add the garlic and mushrooms. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. The idea here is that the slow frying evaporated all the moisture away allowing the onions to caramelise. The more time you spend over this the better. Take at least 15 minutes, ten minimum. You should end up with unctuous oily mushroom, and flecks of sweet, chewy onion.
  3. Whilst the mushrooms are cooking, boil the pasta in salted water in the largest saucepan you have – the pasta will be less gluey from escaped starch and will cook quicker.
  4. Stir in the creme fraiche a tablespoon at a time until all the olive oil is incorporated into it.
  5. Add the drained pasta to the mixture and stir through.
  6. Serve in large bowls.