Tonight is a meal of firsts. The first mushrooms of the season and lamb from my first slaughter. I won’t go into the details of the lamb slaughter, except to say that it was an intense experience; a knife, a knee -that was it. It’s cliché, but the experience truly did change my relationship with the meat. Everyone should participate in a slaughter, if only once.
The other first is the oyster mushrooms; I went out on the hunt a few days ago for the first time this season. I’d heard rumors of chanterelles, so I headed up to a piece of land a friend of mine had access to, but had never collected on. The legend goes that an old man used to forage there, and would emerge with baskets overflowing with golden chanterelles, hardly able to carry his bounty. He passed away years ago, and no one had collected there since.
For me, untouched land where mushrooms are promised is like the mystical bass tale told by fisherman: the one as big as a man. The one that is hooked but never reeled in. It makes a mushroom forager’s mouth water to think of a spot where mushrooms surround you; a spot where you rarely pass a tree without a score. These were my thoughts while driving up at dawn. The reality is rarely as abundant as the dream, but there is always something exciting to report. We’d hiked for about an hour without success when we ran into a stream with trees covered in oyster mushrooms. Dead logs standing up stained white with mushrooms. Logs across the stream covered. Once oyster mushrooms have grabbed onto a dead log they'll grow for years in the same spot, so definitely an exciting thing to find. This was the largest patch of oyster mushrooms I’ve ever seen; It almost seemed like someone inoculated the place years ago, given the sheer volume.
Didn't find any chanterelles on that trip, but the oysters were more than an adequate consolation prize. So on this rainy night post foraging, I figured it made sense to thaw some of the lamb, sauté up the mushrooms, and have at it. Hope you enjoy.
2 lamb shanks
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion – chopped
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
3 tsp chopped fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Cup red wine
1 Can whole peeled tomatoes
1 Quart chicken broth
1/2 lb fingerling potatoes
2 anchovies - minced
2 lb oyster mushrooms
2 cloves garlic – minced
1 Tbsp butter
Note: The number one rule that people will tell you with wild mushrooms is that you shouldn’t wash them. Of course, sometimes they have dirt that wont rub off. I wash mushrooms when I need to, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you have to either. If you buy oysters in the store, they should be pretty clean, but the wild variety often doesn’t come to us so pristine.
Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel (or wash if necessary, see above reasoning), slice, then “dry sauté,” which means cook over medium heat in a dry pan until most of the liquid has evaporated. This is how I cook all my mushrooms. It gets the moisture out before the butter hits them, so they cook rather than stew. Remove oysters, clean pan, heat butter over medium heat, then cook mushrooms. When they start to get some good color, add garlic, and cook them until they’re good and browned, salt and pepper to taste. I find that recipes that ask to add the garlic at the beginning of cooking always leave me with burnt garlic and undercooked food. This way, the garlic gets cooked, the food is perfect, and life is good.
First things first: get your mise en place together. Slice onions and garlic, clean and slice mushrooms, chop herbs – everything in its own bowl. Take shanks out of the fridge to get up to room temperature, dice shallots, preheat oven to 300, and get your equipment together. The real stress of cooking is needing something done without time to do it, so a bit of preparation makes the process much saner (now if I could only follow this advice, I’d be set).
Once you’ve got everything ready, you’re off! Heat your dutch oven over high heat with oil for your sear. You want to give the shanks some color, and also caramelize those sugars to get a good deep flavor. Brown well, remove shanks, add onions. Lower heat to medium, cook 10 minutes until translucent, add garlic and anchovy, cook 2 minutes. Add Shanks back into the pot, along with thyme, pour over stock and canned tomatoes (it should almost cover the shanks, this added liquid will help cook the potatoes later), and white wine. Bring up to a boil, then cover, place in oven, and relax. Cook 1.5 hours, then add potatoes, topping up liquid so it’s at least 3/4th up the shanks (with water if you’re out of stock), cover and cook a further 30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender and shank is falling off the bone. Done! Delicious! Salt and pepper to taste, serve with mushrooms and greens (I had it with bok choy, but that’s really only because that’s what I got in my CSA. I’d rather broccoli rabe with this.) Enjoy!