Stone Soup is an ongoing quarantine feature in which I come up with a recipe that uses the impossible thing in your cupboard, without making you go to the store or wasting any of your ingredients. Last time, we made oatmeal cookies and oat milk.
Hello! I've been enjoying Stone Soup so very much, and have a fairly common ingredient to ask about.
I have 1/2 a gallon of milk staring at me in the fridge. It was bought for a recipe, I mistakenly thought the store had been unable to fulfill it, and now I don't want to simply make the apricot cake I already have a second time. I imagine most households would just...do whatever people do with milk, but my audience (self, adult relatives) doesn't like the taste of cow's milk, so I know we're not going to drink it, put it in cereal etc. It has to be cooked with flavoring of some kind. Baked goods, ice cream, savory dishes, whatever.
This is one of a few different messages I’ve gotten about milk! People who drink cow milk — like, out of a glass, as if it’s a beverage anyone might consume — might find this strange, because they’re chaotic and bring a dark energy to their culinary decisions. Who can know the mind of a lactophile?
But for those of us who use cow milk as an ingredient rather than a fridge staple, a carton is a real burden. You can’t get cow milk in small enough quantities to avoid being saddled with a quick-spoiling pint of pre-cheese. What to do with it?
There are a few options here. You can use it to cook oats for rich and creamy oatmeal, a practice I’ve heard a lot about but never actually tried myself, so… go with god I guess. You can combine it with semolina for a fancy pudding. You can also use it to make queso fresco.
But those are recipes you already have, and I think it’s time for me to open the vault on a recipe my friends and family have been asking after for a while now. It’s simple, versatile, and unspeakably delicious. And, as a bonus, it will make people think you’re fancy, especially when they ask you for the recipe and you give them a coy smile and say “I’m sure I have it written down somewhere” even though you have no intention of ever sharing it with them:
Mushrooms in Cream Sauce
Now, listen, that recipe name is kind of a lie. This isn’t a “cream” sauce if it’s milk, right? But any other name sounds weird and I hate it. “Mushrooms in Milk Sauce”? Please end my suffering. And besides, if you want, you can substitute cream for the milk in this recipe and you’ll have a great life because of it! You can also use a non-dairy milk of your choosing.
Don’t use yogurt or sour cream. You’ll wind up with a lot of regrets.
Step One: Prep. Chop up an onion and a shallot and two cloves of garlic. If you don’t have a shallot, just use another half of an onion. Yes, I know they’re different, but honestly nobody is going to know the difference when you serve them this dish. If you lie and say there’s shallots in it, they’ll be like “OOOOOH yes I can REALLY taste the NUANCES.”
Chop up some fresh herbs if you can get them. I really like tarragon, parsley, and fennel for this. If you can’t get fresh herbs, dried ones are fine — just add them during Step Two instead of Step Five. Dried anise, basil, and sage will be perfectly happy here.
Finally, prep your mushrooms. You’ll want at least a pound - I like 2 pounds for this recipe, but do whatever your heart demands. This recipe will be perfectly happy with almost any kind of mushroom. My preferred balance is a 2:1:1 ratio of criminis : oysters : enokis. I don’t recommend applying this recipe to delicate mushrooms like Lions Mane — meatier, heartier mushrooms flourish best in this application.
Get your mushrooms clean as you can with a paper towel or a good stiff brush. Don’t wash them in water! No flavorless liquids should touch your mushrooms prior to cooking. Then break them down into .5” - 1” pieces. If you have stems, break those down, too. We don’t waste stems around here.
Step Two: Pan time. Put a big, high-sided skillet over high heat. Add your alliums, a healthy glug of olive oil, salt, and black pepper. Give everything a stir and cook, stirring occasionally, until those alliums have just a little bit of brown on them.
Now, add your mushrooms along with a good-sized hunk of butter. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms look a little worried. They shouldn’t brown too much, but they should shrink a bit as they give up some of their moisture.
Step Three: Get ‘em drunk. Now’s the time to strike. Just when you start thinking “should I be concerned about these mushrooms?” — that’s the time to add wine into the mix. Pour enough white wine to cover the mushrooms about halfway. Give that a stir, and then add enough chicken stock to just barely make the mushrooms float. Add a little salt and a little pepper. If you’re working with dried herbs instead of fresh, add those here, too.
Now leave it alone. I mean it. You’re going to want to agitate this a lot, but that’s counterproductive. Let the liquid reach a healthy simmer, and then stir only once or twice within the next several minutes, letting the liquid reduce.
Step Four: Left hook. Once that liquid is almost completely gone, give the contents of that skillet a vigorous stir. Make sure nothing is stuck to the sides or bottom of the pan. You’ve hassled these mushrooms into accepting all the butter, stock, and wine flavor they could muster. They’re unsteady on their feet. But you’ve got another round left in the match.
After that big stir, add wine again - about half the amount you used in Step Three. Do the same for the chicken stock. The liquid should be a rich brown by this point, and the mushrooms should be looking decadent.
Now stir infrequently over medium-high heat and let it cook down again. (I told you this one needed patience).
Step Five: Finish the job. Once the liquid is halfway gone, take the pan off the heat. If you’re using fresh herbs, add them now. Give a few more gentle stirs. Walk away for a couple of minutes to let things cool off — this is a good time to wipe down your counters, pull out plates, or put the finishing touches on a side dish.
Once those mushrooms are cool enough that you can taste the liquid in the pan without burning your mouth, add some dairy. Stirring vigorously, pour enough milk into the pan to lighten your sauce to a rich caramel hue. Keep stirring as you return the pan to low heat. Stir for one minute over the heat, just until you see bubbles.
That’s it! You did it! You made the best mushrooms I know how to prepare. Take it off the heat, do any last-minute seasoning that excites you, and serve. I like this with mashed potatoes, over roasted fennel, with bread, or all by itself. The end result should be rich, decadent, and incredibly flavorful. Enjoy showing off!
Step Six: Don’t forget to keep up the fight. We’re not done yet. Do everything you can. Go to protests and stand up for change. Sign petitions, as many as you can. Text, call, and email demanding justice — there are templates at that link. Donate money, and if you don’t have money, click here to donate just by watching a video playlist, or click here to donate by playing a game. Subscribe to Fiyah, a brilliant speculative fiction magazine that features stories by and about Black people of the African diaspora.
Care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.
If you have a pantry dilemma, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re enjoying this feature, leave a comment below or share it on social media. Stay safe, and if you can’t be safe, be brave.
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