Open Season: Cèpes
Today is the official opening of cèpe season in France. They even announced it on the news. The buzz is that this year the cèpes are uncommonly plentiful. At the market this morning, an excited client chatted to her friend while gathering the mushrooms into a basket for weighing. She proposed that the reason they are so plentiful this year is because of the canicule, the long heat wave that gripped us throughout July this year. But really, no one really knows why. Everyone shrugs their shoulders. Opinions from produce sellers are neutral – the cèpes are more plentiful this year, voila. Lower price.
The official market price as announced on the radio is 10€ a kilo. Since it was the first day we see this mushroom at the market, of course everyone was taking advantage of the beginning of season frenzy that can bring in a few extra Euros. Can you blame them? As the season continues, we’ll see the prices come down. Joining in the frenzy anyway, we picked up about a pound this morning, and paid 6 euros. When we returned home, our building was seeped in the odor of stewing cepes, even before we opened our own door. “I smell Sunday dinner!” said Loïc as we turned the key in the lock.
When you buy cèpes, don’t worry about dirt on them, this is easily removed from the mushroom by a combination of paring a very thin layer off the surface of the stems, and brushing the dirt off of the caps with either a brush or a linen cloth. Try not to wash them in water, because they absorb water like sponges. The best thing to do, if the dirt is not coming off or wet and smeary and you really feel you have to wash them, is to squeeze them gently in a clean cloth after washing them and set them out to dry for a few minutes.
The first time in the year that we buy fresh cèpes, we always prepare them simply, just to taste the good earthy full flavor and let it wash over us. Sometimes we just fry them up and eat them plain with bread and a little salt. That first taste of the season is always special.
The producers have been bringing their garden potatoes to the market for a few weeks now, and there is nothing more delicious than a good plate of potatoes and mushrooms. There will be plenty of opportunities to cook up my favorite meat dishes and soups using cèpes in the weeks to come.
Pommes de Terrres aux Cèpes
500 grams, or 1 pound garden potatoes.
2 échalotes grises, or grey shallots
1 clove of garlic
250 grams, or a ½ pound of fresh cèpe mushrooms
3 tablespoons duck fat
a bunch of fresh flat parsley
3 T. chicken stock or white wine
salt and pepper
About grey shallots: Indeed, although shallots were long considered their own species, the average pink shallot which includes the round or elongated kind has been discovered to be a member of the onion family, and breeds easily with onions, while the grey shallot is completely separate as a species. When shopping for shallots for cooking, and I have a choice between all of the different kinds of shallots, I’ll pick the grey ones. They hold up better under cooking and add more flavor. If I am using the shallot raw, as for dips, salads, and the likes, I choose the pink variety.
About fresh cèpes: When you choose the cèpes, you are going to notice that you can’t find many mushrooms that have not had parts of them munched away by little critters already. Don’t worry! The bigger the mushroom, the higher likelihood that they’ll be seriously bitten into. Cut around the munched out spots. If, as you pare away a very thin amount from the surface of the stem to remove the dirt, you discover that your cèpe has turned brown on the inside, cut out the brown part. The rest of the mushroom is deliciously edible. The choice between large and small mushrooms is a question of preference. The larger mushroom caps release the typical very flavorful and not at all unpleasant sticky fluid that we often associate with cèpes and mushrooms of many sorts. The smaller mushrooms do not release as much liquid and are more delicate in flavor.
-Peel, wash and dry your potatoes, and cut them into ½ inch chunks. Peel and mince the shallots and garlic. Clean your cèpes by paring a very thin layer from the dirty parts of the stem, and brushing them off with a brush or a clean linen cloth. Roughly chop the mushrooms. Wash, dry, and mince your parsley.
-Heat 2 tablespoons of duck fat in a frying pan, and add the mushrooms, shallots, and garlic. Srinkle with salt, and sauté over medium heat for about 4 minutes, or until the mushrooms begin to release their fluid. Add the parsley and toss briefly. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl.
-Add the chicken stock or wine to the pan and push it around along the bottom, loosening any bits that have stuck to the bottom. Pour the liquid over the mushrooms, which have been set aside in a bowl.
-Add the remaining duck fat to the pan and heat it until it shimmers and the liquid on the bottom of the pan has evaporated. Add the potatoes, let them sizzle for a moment or two, and reduce the heat to low. Pour the mushroom / liquid mixture over the top of the potatoes, and cover tightly. Let simmer for 10 mintues, season, and serve.