It is no secret that I’m in love with James Beard. He’s a chef that helps me define in my heart and to detractors what exactly American cuisine could be, if you start stripping away international influences and fusions – not that you really need to, for I think that’s the greatest part of eating in the US. I look for reasons to pull out my copy of Beard on Food (truly I don’t like the title – it sounds like a treatise on kitchen-based mold) and surreptitiously caress the pages. My roommate was very understanding when I celebrated the mild breakdown in a dinner party of hers. We were making the vegan gypsy goulash for eight, but it ended up being three. Suddenly we had two extra pounds of white mushrooms slowly turning brown in the crisper drawer. In the back of my love-addled mind, a bell rang. Certainly…James had a recipe that needed…two pounds of mushrooms?
Of course he did. Enter duxelles: “a highly concentrated mushroom paste named for the Marquis d’Uxelles, for whom it was created…one of the most rewarding ways to use a basketful of mushrooms bought at a reduced price when they are a bit past their prime.” Well James, I didn’t have a basket nor received a discount, but I certainly had a shocking amount of mushrooms to get rid of. So I stuck my other love, MacGyver, into the DVD player and busted out my new mini Santoku knife and started in. I don’t have any pictures of the process because I wasn’t sure how it’d turn out, but it’s a straightforward little recipe-ette.
Duxelles from James Beard
1 1/2 to 2 pounds of white mushrooms – not important that they be pretty.
10 Tbsp butter ( I didn’t claim this was entirely healthy)
2 Tbsp finely chopped shallot or onion
2 tsp salt
Chop the white mushrooms, including stems, very finely. It took quite a long time and patience, hence the MacGyver. I ended up with a strangely quivery mountain of mushroom bits that shuddered in fright at its own carnage every time someone walked through the kitchenette. Pour this pile into a thin dish towel and twist until all the liquid is squeezed out. This takes some brute strength and patience as well – interestingly the liquid is kind of pink. Whenever you think you’re done, put the twist in a different place and try again, because the mushrooms will try to trick you, like a rich man hiding the money clip while offering up the Rolex to a mugger. James suggests saving this liquid for flavoring soups and sauces. I already had something like five Tupperware containers of chili in the freezer waiting to be eaten, so I didn’t kid myself that it would get used any time soon.
Melt 10 Tbsp butter in a large pan over low to medium heat. Add the mushrooms and shallot to the pan and stir to coat every tidbit in butter. Cook over the lowest heat and stir every 10 to 15 minutes to keep an even heat. Do this for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until all the liquid has evaporated out of the pan. The mushrooms will be a thick, black almost-paste in the pan. Add the salt, mix thoroughly, and remove to a bowl to cool. It will keep for two weeks in a jar or can be frozen (what I opted for).
But what to do with this? He offers stirring it into eggs, putting it in crepes, soups, stews, and whatever else hits your fancy. But the one that captivated my imagination was mixing it with cheese and broiling it as a little canape. I ended up serving these to my single ladies’ Valentine’s Day party. So.
I cut slices of a baguette on the bias and broiled them to a very light golden brown, then rubbed them lightly with half a garlic clove. VERY lightly, because these canapes are already very strongly flavored.
Mix some shredded cheese with the duxelles – no strict measurements, but a little less cheese than mushroom for a good balance of taste. I chose to use WSU’s Cougar Gold because it was a Christmas gift from my brother, I had half a tin left, and it is hands down one of the sharpest, most salty delicious Cheddar’s you can get your hands on.
You can see here what the duxelles will look like, more or less.
Mix the cheese and duxelles and spoon on top of the crostini.
Slide under the broiler for a few short moments, just until the cheese melts. Eat! And say thank you, James.