Best and Basic Wild Mushroom Recipe

Gold of the Forest

Gold of the Forest

It’s been a variable summer so far with a bit more rain than most Nordic sunseekers like to see. Yet for those of us who are chantarelle lovers it looks like this is already a remarkable year. The damp forest floors of Scandinavia are already covered in ‘forest gold’, and when my husband found them growing out of the sandy soil under the swings in our children’s playground at our island home, we realized that it was time to take down the mushroom picking baskets hanging from the kitchen ceiling and head out.

The culinary mythology around what to do with wild mushrooms once they are in the basket on your kitchen counter is contradictory as it is extensive. ‘Never do this’ and ‘never do that’ are a common means of expressing advice around the precious annual fungi finds. Butter companies adore this time of year and if you happen to be in a Nordic subway station from August until October, you’ll notice that chantarelles are portrayed on billboards as the inseparable buddies of a lump of butter.

Fine if you like butter, but my advice is not to be swayed. Years ago I walked the forests around my island with one of Sweden’s most respected mushroom experts, Bo Nylen, and he reminded me always when I got home to do the following with the most delicious edible mushrooms:

Basic Mushroom Recipe (particularly chantarelles and porcini)

Wild mushrooms (consume only if you are absolutely certain about what you have picked!)
Ecological Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1-2 garlic cloves (optional)

Clean the mushrooms with a cooking brush (anything resembling a small basting brush is fine). Preserve as much of the mushroom as possible for eating, including the stem. Do not wash in water as the mushrooms become…well…I cannot find another word: mushy. Chop the mushrooms into cross-sections or just roughly. With porcini, make sure that the insects and worms have not gotten into the mushroom first. Heat a thick bottomed sauteing pan with a few tablespoons of ecological extra virgin olive oil. Lower the heat to medium and add the mushrooms. Drain away the excess liquid in the pan after a couple of minutes of sauteing and add some extra olive oil, the crushed garlic and a pinch of salt. Saute until the mushrooms become ever so slightly browned (not burned). Serve on a slice of toast with sour cream and chives or use in a wide range of other dishes. See, for instance, Warm Mushroom Wraps.

My friend, Rune Kalf-Hansen, has just come out with a fabulous new cookbook in Swedish language called Kalf-Hansens Ekologiska Kök. If you do read and understand Swedish, you will enjoy his mouth-watering recipe for Kantarellpiroger (his version of Chantarelle Wraps). Rune’s cuisine gives eating seasonally new meaning and he has devoted decades to making people understand why it is important. An authentic work in every way!


Scandinavian Sushi

Scandinavian Sushi

Scandinavian Sushi

When first I came to Scandinavia I worked for a Danish company based just outside of Copenhagen. In their cafeteria on every day of the week one could choose from several different types of pickled herring combined with various toppings and several different types of bread, many of them dark and grainy. I wasn’t wild about it at first, but it grew on me. I began to miss my pickled herring smörrebröd when I sat in London pubs – England was my other base during this phase of life.

Now that I have been living in Sweden for 13 years, I know that the summer cannot pass without a jar of sill or pickled herring in the refrigerator. There are many types that you can purchase in the shops, prepared in almost every imaginable marinade. The classic in Sweden is to lay a few slices on a starter plate with boiled new potatoes (peel unremoved) and soured cream. It is an elegant and exotic start to a meal even if you come from these parts. Sill is also a highlight at Christmas although at that time of year served with crisp bread rather than potatoes….but that is too far away to worry about just now.

Sill doesn’t feel like something you want to consume too much of at once. It has a richness as a result of the fact that herring is an oily fish and a strong flavor, imparted by the marinade, that makes small quantities in starter portions just right.

For some years there have been health concerns about the consumption of herring from the Baltic sea which was heavily contaminated by PCBs (Polychlorinated Byphenals used in refrigeration), methylmercury and dioxin-like compounds during the 1960s and 70s. In addition, overfishing severely reduced herring stocks to dangerously low levels.  The news for the Baltic seems positive, with sinking levels of these pollutants and collaborative efforts to control fishing. Still, best advice is to consume Atlantic or Pacific herring up to two times per week. If you are expecting, avoid consumption of fish from the Baltic entirely.

The good news is that sill is one of three types of oily fish (the others are mackerel and salmon) rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which protect against heart disease, among other clear health benefits. These fish are a great way to get the healthy fats that your body needs without eating ‘fat food’.

So, what is the trick for coming up with that tangy tasting sill that is one of the most common features of the Scandinavian smörgåsbord? Here is a basic recipe that you can vary according to taste and what herbs you’ve got available. You can consider adding other flavors such as juniper berries, sherry or garlic.

Pickled Herring

1 dl or 1/2 cup vinegar
6 dl or 2 1/2 cups water
3 dl or 1 1/3 cups sugar
800 g or 1.8 lbs (28 ounces) canned herring
20 Black and white pepper corns
2 red onions, sliced thinly
4 bay leaves
Clean pickling jars

Blend the vinegar, water and sugar and bring to simmering. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. During this time, chop the herring fillets into 2-3 cm or about 1 inch chunks and layer in clean jars with pepper corns, onions and bay leaves. Pour over the liquid so that it covers the fish and fills the whole jar. Seal and allow to marinade for 4 days.

Serve with your favorite dark bread, potatoes, sour cream and perhaps, for that extra health and flavor kick, beet root salad. The possibilities are endless.

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