• Morels With Asparagus and Cream (and Bacon)

    Morels with asparagus and cream (and bacon).

    This is a very good dish, but no need to avoid the obvious, this is not a particularly healthy dish. The photo says it all. Morels and asparagus bathed in a sauce of cream and bacon. We do offer some notes on how to make a lighter version of the recipe, but we view morels as “special occasion” food around here. When we get them, we don’t hold back. We just love morels. And rather than try to explain the flavor profile in great detail, we will share a description from our eldest child; “ooh, morels, yum- they taste like meat”. Yup, they do. Rich, and indeed “meaty” in flavor, morels have a great texture when cooked and taste like the umami-bombs they are.

    Morels are from the Morchella genus of mushrooms and are common in the United States and enjoyed in Europe and Asia. Morels are found in many forest environments, but on the west coast the Gray Morels are most associated with wildfires. The morels thrive in forest areas after a burn and in areas of “controlled burns”. As controlled burns and wildfires are common throughout the west in most years, we get our share of morels. Most go to restaurants or are dried for sale, but we do get fresh morels at the farmers market- and when we do, we grab them. But even in good years they are not cheap. Dried morels are a more affordable (and off-season) substitute.

    Ingredients, note the mix of morels and king trumpet mushrooms.

    As for the morels themselves, they are usually 1-3 inches in size and have a unique “sponge-like” cap and a hollow core. This makes cleaning the morels a challenge. Frankly, morels are dirty, buggy mushrooms. And as they often come from pine forests, a few pine needles may be stuck in there as well. While it may sound like sacrilege to purists, we suggest that morels be cut in half and thoroughly rinsed in water. The water will cook out with some extra time in the pan, but no one likes mud, bugs and pine needles in their food. It is also a good idea to inspect and clean each morel by hand before you cook them. This is time-consuming work, but since morels will be a special treat for most, it is worth the extra effort.

    Prepare your veggies.

    Now some will say that the morels should be served simply, with minimal additions, and that is great. But the morels play very well with other flavors, particularly earthy, sweet green vegetables like asparagus (fiddleheads are also good, if you can get them). And why not add some home-cured bacon, a touch of shallot, cream and some fresh thyme? And morels are really expensive, so we add some other meaty mushrooms (we use king trumpets) to the recipe to as well. And in a pinch, you can just use other mushrooms altogether. The flavors will still be good.

    Wash the mushrooms, you will be much happier.

    Bacon adds extra flavor, but you can substitute olive oil.

    Reserve the bacon pieces, but cook the mushrooms in the bacon fat.

    Making this dish is a simple one-pan operation. Most of the work is in prep. Clean and slice the mushrooms, asparagus and shallots and set aside. Cut some bacon into cubes or strips and brown, remove the bacon pieces and reserve, but keep the bacon fat in the pan. (You could skip the bacon and just use olive oil). Add the shallots and mushrooms and cook until they give up their liquid and it is mostly reduced. Add the thyme, then deglaze with some white wine and then add the asparagus. Cook the asparagus for a few minutes then add the cream, reduce for another minute, add the bacon and then check seasoning. Adjust seasoning as needed and serve. Continue reading

  • Pork Belly Ssam With Celery Root Remoulade

    Building your own recipes often creates some strange bedfellows. In this case, we developed a recipe based on the work of two cooking titans from very different places in the culinary spectrum: David Chang and Ina Garten. Chang is the bad-boy New York City chef of Momofuku fame, known for excellent, innovative Asian-inspired comfort food that is uniquely upscale and downscale at the same time (a tough balance to pull-off, btw). Chang is also known for extreme profanity, the occasional tirade and the pursuit of perfection. Ina Garten, better known as the Barefoot Contessa, is a Food Network staple, former Hamptons caterer and cookbook author who is best known for simplifying classic recipes and coolly saying “now, how easy is that”. I doubt they often share afternoon tea.

    Actually, I have no idea if they know each other, or how they feel about the other’s work. But I will tell you that they have very different approaches to cooking- and their cookbooks bear this out. Chang’s “Momofuku Cookbook” has some very easy recipes, like pork belly, but is also full of multi-step, hard-to-find / make ingredients and sometimes highly technical cooking. The Momofuku cookbook, not surprisingly, reads like it was written by a chef. But happily, we do get some incredibly tasty, and easy recipes for the home cook like roasted pork belly. It is a great dish and anyone can make it. And it is really, really good. I have (very happily) had pork belly at Momofuku Ssam Bar and the home version competes very nicely. It is porky, soft, fatty, salty and incredibly indulgent. Yum. Double Yum.

    (Ed. Note: A few years ago, we had a take-out roasted pork shoulder from Momofuku as part of a Thanksgiving meal in New York with family and friends. It was one of the best, most memorable, meals we have ever had. I thank David Chang and his team, to this day, for helping that meal happen.)

    Continue reading