Monday, December 21, 2009

Recipe: Mushroom Parmentier

Saturday night was our department's annual holiday shindig, and it was oodles of fun and silliness. Just how we like it. We being the social committee, of which I am one-third, who decided that it would be more cost-effective and less stressful to hold it at someone's apartment rather than having it at a bar as we did last year. Now the opportunity to embarrass ourselves singing karaoke at The Gladstone did add a certain je ne sais quoi in 2008, but I liked this year's better. Not only was the party great (almost everyone spent Sunday nursing a considerable hangover, which is the sign of a job well done, and many people didn't head home until at least four), the day spent cooking and getting ready was lovely and cozy: the perfect non-academic bonding time with people I like and who I don't get to see enough of. Five us of got together on Saturday morning and between us, we shopped, cooked, moved furniture, assembled the perfect party playlists, and then drank three bottles of wine, ate pizza, and played Trivial Pursuit. What other choice did we have, being so efficient that we were completely prepared for guests at 5:30 when the party didn't start until 8:00?

We decided to keep the menu entirely vegetarian, as there are a fair few vegetarians and vegans among us, and it seemed easier not to require people to worry about what was in their food when they were too busy having a good time to care. Along with homemade spanakopita and olive tapenade, Kristen made a delicious looking lasagne that I did not sample, as I was saving my appetite for a recipe which I've been meaning to try for awhile: Laura Calder's Mushroom Parmentier. In English, it is better known as mushroom shepherd's pie. It was, in a word, scrumptious. How could something that consists largely of potatoes, mushrooms, red wine, and butter not be delicious? I made the recipe vegan by substituting soy milk and margarine for the milk and butter, and omitting the cheese; I'm sure it will be even more delicious in its original form. And it was the easiest thing in the world to make.

If you haven't seen Julie & Julia yet, and you like food, do give it a watch, even if only for this one piece of advice: don't crowd the mushrooms. It is the key to this dish, and to any dish with mushrooms, really. Treat them like meat: give them space to brown so they won't steam, and you'll be pleased every time. I've given the recipe in its original form below, but I've also added the substitutions/omissions I made to veganize it in brackets.



  • 2 lb. assorted mushrooms: cremini, shiitake, portobello, oyster, porcini, but not button
  • 3 tbsp butter (v: lactose-free margarine)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, more as needed
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • A handful of chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock or water
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • A handful chopped fresh parsley
Potato topping:
  • 6 medium floury potatoes (anything labelled 'baking potato' usually works well)
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons butter (v: lactose-free margarine)
  • 1/4 cup milk (v: plain soy milk)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 oz grated Comté or Gruyere cheese (v: omit, or substitute soy-based cheese)
  • 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese (v: omit, or substitute soy-based cheese)
  1. Clean and quarter or slice the mushrooms. Heat two tablespoons of the butter/margarine with one tablespoon of the olive oil and sauté the mushrooms until cooked and golden. Don't be afraid to jack the heat up quite high, and use two pans if you need to; if they start to release their juices, you need to turn the heat up and give them more room. Remove.
  2. Heat the other spoonful of olive oil (adding more if you need it) and sauté the onion until soft. Add the garlic for one minute. Deglaze with the wine and reduce to no more than a spoonful. Add the stock, the thyme, and the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the stock has reduced by half.
  3. Knead together the flour with the last tablespoon of butter/margarine and stir it in. Cook until the liquid has thickened to a sauce--this will be brief. Stir through the parsley. Spoon the mixture into a gratin dish.
  4. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes, cut them into pieces of roughly the same size, and boil until fork-tender. Drain and mash with the butter/margarine and (soy)milk until very smooth, adding more (soy)milk if needed. Season with salt and pepper. Stir through the grated cheese. Distribute evenly over the mushroom mixture, and smooth with the back of the spoon. Sprinkle over the Parmesan if you're into cheese, which I certainly am.
  5. Heat the oven to 425°F. Bake the gratin until bubbling hot and golden on top, about 15 minutes. If you're worried that the centre won't be hot, test it by inserting a knife and holding it there for a few seconds. If the knife comes out hot, it's ready.