Mushroom season in Mexico – with a French twist

Once again wild mushrooms are hitting the markets of central Mexico. Here in the capital, the month of August is peak fungus time. An extraordinary, colorful variety of them are available, mostly culled from the wilds of the states of Mexico, Hidalgo, Morelos and Puebla. Some, like the yellow duraznillos, the grayish clavitos or the spongy morillas, correspond closely to such Euro- appreciated and high priced treasures as chanterelles and morels.  As a curious food writer and amateur chef I am compelled and inspired to buy and cook.

The French Lady, with whom I occasionally trek to the San Juan market, waxed nostalgic there a few days ago, upon spying piles of morels. “Ou la la”, she moaned, “if only we were in Paree right now…” A tear rolled down her cheek. You see, her dad’s favorite Parisian restaurant Moissonier, serves his and her favorite dish – poulet aux morilles. “I’ll make it for you”, I offered hesitantly, worried about the possibly self-defeating challenge of cooking French for the French.
To shore up my confidence, I called up some local kitchen-addict friends and together we concocted a five course all-mushroom feast for 12. The French Lady was pleased – “just like home”, she exclaimed, delicately licking the last drop of creamy morel-infused sauce from her plate with her pinky.
Chef Lesley Téllez decided to keep us grounded in nuestra tierra by whipping up a tinga de setas to serve as a botana. It was pure Mexican, with a contemporary twist – pleasantly chewy threads of meaty mushroom augmented by a mildly spiky chile-infused salsa, served as rolled up tacos. She, being the atypical Mexicana, was indeed willing to share her recipe, which I include, below.

Chef Nora Bielak, on the other hand, decided to take the French bull by the horns and threw together an elegant carpaccio de hongos, simple slivers of a large, Alice in Wonderland-like mushroom called pambazo (in France c'est un cèpe) dressed with the best olive oil you can get and sprinkled with chopped hazelnuts. Her pièce de résistance however was the galette de hongos silvestres. An impressive rectangular pie of flaky, buttery crust reveals a payload of sautéed fungi. It tastes like butter, Julia Child-like in quantity, goes into this rich savory. Her recipe follows.
Chef Daniel, who is both a professional chef and French, brought two mushroom-less desserts, a cherry clafouti and a textbook perfect praline-laden apple tart.
My contribution was the aforementioned chicken with morels. Yes, I’ve been to Moissonier myself and if I must say so, my version of this Lyonnais classic did indeed hit all the marks. It’s not as hard to make as you might think. Try it. Drag out your old Piaf LPs and invite someone French. They’ll love you forever.
(note: see my previous article on mushroom season for hints on where to buy them)

Tinga de Setas
(Oyster mushrooms in tomato-chipotle sauce)
Makes about 3 cups

This is a vegetarian variation on the typical Mexican tinga, which usually calls for shredded chicken or beef, in a smoky, tomato-chipotle sauce. The oyster mushrooms, sliced into strips, are firm and hearty -- you really don't miss the meat. Using fresh tomatoes makes a difference. I haven't tried this dish using canned, but the idea here is to create something soft and bright, not acidic.

3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as safflower
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 lb or about 500g ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 lb or about 500g setas (oyster mushrooms), sliced into strips
2 canned chipotles in adobo, or to taste, chopped
Salt to taste

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add onion and garlic and stir quickly. (Lower the flame if garlic starts to burn.) Cook until onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in diced tomatoes. Cover and cook until the tomatoes start to break down and soften, about another 5 minutes. Stir occasionally so the tomatoes don't stick to the pan.

When the tomatoes are sufficiently soft, stir in mushrooms, making sure they're mixed as much as possible with the juicy tomatoey bits. Lower the flame to medium, cover and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until mushrooms are tender and no longer rubbery.
Remove from flame and stir in chipotle to taste, and then salt.
Serve with warm corn tortillas.

Gallette of wild mushrooms

The dough: pate brisée with herbs
2 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
12 ½ tablespoons (180g) butter cut in cubes
¼ cup cold water
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
½ teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh marjoram, finely chopped
½ lb (200g) requesón or ricotta cheese
5 oz (150g) blue cheese (if it’s very strong, use a little less)
2 ¼ lb (1kg) mixed wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 oz (50g) pancetta, diced
3 scallions, chopped, including the green part
3 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 branch fresh rosemary
1 branch fresh thyme
2 tablespoons cooking oil, such as safflower
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup dark beer
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper

Prepare the dough:
In a food processor, add all the ingredients except the water. ‘Pulse’ various times until you see balls of dough the size of a pea. Add the ice water little by little until it forms a large ball. Empty the contents onto a lightly floured workspace and form a thick disk with the dough. Cover with plastic and chill for at least an hour.

Prepare the mushroom filling:
In a large frying pan at medium heat put a tablespoon of butter and 1 of oil. When hot, add the pancetta and sauté until golden. Add the scallions and shallot and when they turn transparent, add the garlic. Stir and fry for a minute or two. Empty into a bowl and return the pan to the flame, raising the heat, and, if necessary, adding more oil and butter. Sauté the mushrooms, little by little, being careful not to put too much into the pan at a time, or they will steam instead of fry. Once wilted, combine the mushrooms with the scallion mixture. Return contents to the pan, and add the herbs and beer. Cook until liquid evaporates. Set aside to cool.

Prepare the cheeses:
In a small bowl, mash the two cheeses with a fork until soft and mixed.

Assemble the gallette:
Preheat the oven to 190 C (375 F)
On a floured surface, roll out the dough about 3mm thick (as for thin crust pizza) and to the desired shape - it can be round or rectangular. Roll out the cheese mixture onto the dough leaving a border of 1 ½” (3 cm). Then cover with the mushroom mixture. Fold the borders inward. Brush on the beaten egg.
Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 35 minutes or until the dough is golden.

Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Poulet aux Morilles
This dish is from the Rhône area of France, i.e. Lyon. Traditionally it is made with vin jaune, or ‘yellow wine’ which comes from Jura. But even if you could find this wine outside France it would be beyond your budget and mine. Just use any nice dry wine; dry vermouth works well.

250 gm (1/2 lb.) fresh morels (morillas in Mexico), rinsed and quickly dried – a salad spinner works great for this
1 large chicken, cut into serving size pieces, breast in 4, leg and thigh separated. Reserve the back for another use
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup (200 gm) crème fraiche (crème fraiche is less sour than our Mexican ‘crema’ or American sour cream –if you can’t find it, substitute half crema or sour cream and half whipping cream)
4 tablespoons butter
1 large or 2 small shallots, 2 tablespoons finely chopped
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed into 2 tablespoons cold water
Salt and pepper

- In a heavy casserole over medium heat, melt half the butter and brown the chicken, a few pieces at a time, on all sides ; set aside.
-Add the morels to the same casserole. Cook at high heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring to prevent burning, until tender. Remove to a bowl.
-Add the wine, de-glazing the bottom by scraping with a wooden spoon and bring to light boil until the alcohol burns off, 2-3 minutes. Return chicken to casserole with ½ cup water. Lower heat and simmer, covered, turning the chicken from time to time.
-After 30 minutes, remove a breast piece and cut into it: if it is done (i.e. white to the core), remove the breasts and leave the thighs and legs to cook 10 minutes more. Once more, remove chicken to a ceramic bowl and cover to keep warm.
-Add cream and mushrooms to the pot, stirring with a wire whisk or a fork, bringing to a slow bubbly simmer. If the sauce is very thin, you may want to thicken it at this point with cornstarch. Raise the heat; make sure the cornstarch is completely dissolved in the water; whisk it into the sauce, stirring until the sauce starts to thicken and continue to whisk at medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the chicken, simmering until it is re-heated through. Taste, adjusting salt and pepper. Serve over wide buttered pasta such as tagliatelle or egg noodles.
Serves 6-8
This post was originally published in 2011


Backyard BBQ: Touring the world's best venue for barbacoa

The winner
As previously reported, ‘The World’s Seven Tastiest Fast Feasts Awards’ were revealed at a gala event in April. Chowzter, dedicated to promoting ‘traditional fast food’ was the proud sponsor. And out of five nominations for best taco in the world the prize went to Barbacoa Santiago in Querétaro. The tacos at Santiago, a roadside restaurant in the hands of the same family, originally from the state of Hidalgo, are legendary. Wrapped in maguey leaves and pit-cooked overnight over wood, the fragrant meat is served on freshly made blue or yellow tortillas augmented with hand-ground roast chile salsa that would bring a tear to the eye of the most hardened charro.
Accepting the award

As Chowzter’s Mexico City representative, I was charged with delivering the trophy, which was gratefully accepted by members of the Santiago family. After being fed everything on the menu, which includes several manifestations of their eponymous main dish, from tender 'lomo' to crispy refried bits, I was led on a “backstage tour”, apparently a privilege rarely granted and never before to a member of the press: even a Televisa crew was refused entry. Santiago's premises are gargantuan; everything, from tortillas to salsas are made in-house by dozens of busy cooks. Ten to fifteen  healthy, locally raised sheep are sacrificed, Abraham-like, daily. They are hung to dry, then roasted between layers of maguey leaves. Their earthen pit wood-fueled ovens are located in Dante-esque smoke-blackened oven rooms. This traditional method of cooking, similar to the 'pib' of the Mayan Yucatán, is little changed since pre-hispanic times.
Blue corn tortillas, the masa prepared by the 'nixtamalization' process, are hand pressed

Prepared sheep are briefly hung to cure
'Leña' and maguey leaves ready for the ovens
Meat is roasted in a pit dug into the earth, fueled by wood and covered in 'pencas' of maguey, the plant from which mezcal is produced
bamboo poles support roasted meat

Meat is transferred to wooden boxes, leaves and all, and prepared for tacos

At the table; two salsas, limes, onion and coarse salt

Barbacoa Santiago is located on the Carretera Mexico-Querétaro, km 152.1, Palmillas, San Juan del Río, Querétaro, about 2 hours north of Mexico City, and about 1 1/2 hours south of San Miguel de Allende. Open every day until around 7.

In El D.F., fine barbacoa can be sampled at La Oveja Negra in Santa Maria la Ribera, and at El Hidalguense, Campeche 155, Colonia Roma, open Friday - Sunday only. It is also available at markets and tianguis: particularly good is that served in Polanco's Saturday market and la Condesa's Tuesday tianguis. 
A note to my readers: See a fine interview with the author in this month's Time Out Mexico