Thursday, April 02, 2009

Russian fast food: Potatoes and pickled mushrooms

When I was growing up in Russia, there was no pre-made convenience food. The Russian food scene in the 1980s was still a long way from fast food and take-out. What we did have were potatoes and handpicked wild mushrooms, fried up and served with sour cream. In fact, this is very popular Russian food, practically a national dish. In her Russian cookbook, Please to the Table, Anya von Bremzen writes: "This is the quintessential Russian dacha [summer country home] dish...For me the dish never fails to evoke the happiest memories of childhood--of my last summer days at the dacha, the height of the mushroom season..."

Oh, man, this just makes me sigh. I, too, went mushroom hunting in the country as a child, a fact I love to romanticize. Who knows, maybe I hated mushroom-hunting as a kid. For all I remember, it could have been tedious or exhausting. Chances are, however, that I will never pick wild mushrooms in the Russian countryside again, so I'm entitled to a little faux-nostalgia. (As far as I know, good eating mushrooms don't grow in Wisconsin--and if they did, I'd be very cautious about picking them. I have no experience identifying American wild mushrooms. Seriously, don't eat wild mushrooms unless you can ID them and, you know, not poison yourself.)

These days I make a modernized version of this meal, making do with healthier roasted potatoes and store-bought white mushrooms. Anya recommends frying the mushrooms in butter for an authentic meal, but I prefer my mushrooms pickled. (Not fast, but convenient if you make a large batch.) I've been toying with pickling recipes for the past year, and I've come up on the best one yet. It's by Russian-born writer Julia Ioffe, as published in the fall/winter 2009 issue of Russia! magazine.

For the potatoes:
Preheat the oven to 425. Peel some potatoes--Yukon Gold work best. Slice lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick matchsticks. Place in a foil-lined pan, sprinkle with salt and ground black pepper and drizze with olive oil. Roast 20-25 minutes, turning often, until the potatoes are done.

For the mushrooms:
(Recipe modified from Julia Ioffe)

-1 pound white mushrooms (unless you're one of the luckies who has access to fancy-pants chanterelles, etc.)
-handful black peppercorns
-handful whole cloves
-2-3 bay leaves
-1 tbs. salt
-1.5 tbs. white vinegar
-1 tsp sugar
-1.5 cups water

Wash the mushrooms and scrub off the dirt. If the mushrooms are very large, slice in half. Place in a large pan, cover with water, bring to a boil; then simmer 20 minutes.

Drain the mushrooms (or save the mushroom stock for soup). Transfer the mushrooms to a clean glass jar.

In a small saucepan, combine the peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, salt, sugar, vinegar and water. Bring to a boil. Pour over the mushrooms in the jar. Toss in a couple of small, peeled garlic cloves if desired.

Let sit at room temperature for a few hours. Taste the liquid and adjust the seasonings. Then transfer the jar to the fridge and let the mushrooms marinate at least 48 hours. Mine were great after 72 hours.

Serve with roasted potatoes. Top with chopped parsley or dill, and sour cream.


bigkiwicandy said...

ps: reading your blog make my stomach sing!

Rozmin said...

Looks really good!

In Switzerland (and maybe France, I'm not sure) they do something really cool: You can pick mushrooms and then take them to your local pharmacy, and the pharmacist will identify which are poisonous and which are good. We're going to go mushroom picking in around September, and I can't wait to try the recipe then!

Mishka said...

Mushrooms were Mike tested and Mike aproved. Now I just want more of them :-)

adele said...

Nice. I would love to go mushrooming; I'm told that tasty mushrooms do grow in New England woods, but I'd need a mycologist friend to help me out. :)

Mrs. M. said...

Girl--Thanks! Try making the mushrooms!

Rozmin-That sounds like an excellent service. I hope you have a great time in April.

Mish--You supply 'em, I pickle 'em.

Adele-I heard you can go mushrooming in Vermont.

Anonymous said...

Awesome recipe! I'm going to make it next week!

I don't know about Wisconsin, but generally, the same edible mushrooms that grow in Russia grow in the U.S. also. But you most definitely need to know what you're doing. The poisonous ones here are deadly poisonous.

The Borovik grows here, but it's known as a King Bolete here. Lisichki grow here but are known as Yellow Chanterelles. The Maslayata grow here but are known as Slippery Jacks. I live in Northern Arizona, so these may not grow where you are. We're at 7,000 feet here and these grow in pine forst. We have a choice mushroom here called the Lobster Mushroom and I don't know if they have that in Russia or not.

Now, the King Bolete is pretty easy to identify but you still have to be wary. There is a Bolete called a Bitter Bolete which can make you quite sick. A true King Bolete does not stain any color when cut open. The Bitter Bolete stains blue when cut or the pores are pressed.

We collect lots of wild mushrooms here in Flagstaff, Arizona. It just takes time to learn the local species and going with someone experienced to learn. You can always contact local mycology groups or wild food gatherers to learn. Once you start gathering wild mushrooms, invest in a quality food dehydrator to preserve your harvest. Keep the dried mushrooms in sealed jars and they will actually richen in flavor as they age.


Irene said...

Yes, thank you!!! I've always wanted to pickle my own mushrooms because I love them, but it's so hard to get really good pickled mushrooms in the stores. Yay!

Mrs. M. said...

Kevan--thanks for the good tips. I'd be a little nervous about picking wild mushrooms here--I don't really know what I'm doing. Maybe if I went with a mycology group...

Irene--Let me know how they turn out if you make them. Yes, store-bought pickled mushrooms aren't quite the same--and if they are good, they're expensive.

Olivia said...

Very similar mushrooms do grow in Northern Wisconsin and even in the Madison area (syroyezhki). Up north you cna get the same stuff - belye, krasnye, lisichki, etc. I have tried them and I am still alive. Try Northern Wisconsin, North shore of Minnesota along Lake Superior and Michigan UP. I agree mushrooms with sour cream and potatoes are the best.

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