Last week, I took a trip to Yosemite National Park for the kickoff session of The Ahwahnee's annual Chefs' Holidays. The event ended with a big blowout dinner, but I walked away with tons of tips. Chef Matt Bolton, who runs the kitchen at Pacific's Edge restaurant in Carmel's Highlands Inn, showed the audience how to confit a duck leg to make pâté-like rillette.
But I was most impressed with his other dish, tiny cubes of butternut squash slow-cooked in the style of risotto, and topped with foraged mushrooms. While preparing his dishes, Bolton offered a number of suggestions for cleaning, storing, and cooking with fungi. See them when you read on.
- Mushroom varieties vary in cooking times; more delicate mushrooms will cook in less time than meatier types.
- To clean mushrooms, use a damp towel to wipe dirt off the caps. Trim the stems, then scrape them gently with a knife.
- When storing fresh mushrooms, Chef Matt recommends laying them on a parchment-covered sheet pan in the fridge. Don't wrap them tightly; they'll shrink and suffocate.
- Cut mushrooms into large sections, so they won't shrivel and become too small once cooked.
- Rehydrate dried mushrooms by adding them to boiling water, then turning off the heat and allowing them to sit for 20 minutes. Pat dry before using.
- Reserve the dried mushroom liquid. Simmer it with white wine, shallots, and thyme for a flavorful vegetable stock.
- Make the most of each mushroom's properties. For instance, cooked candy cap mushrooms (which have a strong maple syrup aroma) would taste great applied to ice cream.