Sunday, 27 April 2014

Sharron and Lawrence's happy ChristmEaster feaster

The Christmas Bunny - or something much funnier that I'll edit in tonight.
Sharron, Lawrence and friends came around the same time last year... for their Christmas party. They've all known each other since the days when you could only buy olive oil in the chemist and red peppers were regarded as suspicious interlopers. Why can't they organise a Christmas get together at yer actual Christmas? No one knows. Thankfully they didn't request a turkey dinner.

Starter was the welcome return of my pea mousse with mint sauce, this time complemented with freshly picked pea shoots from the garden. 

I did a split main course: lamb shanks for those who did and smoked haddock gratin for those who didn't. Both were served with cauliflower pureé; a revelation to me as I hate cauliflower... I thought. Good to overcome another childhood aversion.

The group were also the first to try my new dessert of butterscotch mousse and espresso sponge. They declared it a success but (slightly galling!) they mainly raved about the salted peanut brittle - the easiest element on the plate.

Delicious peanut brittle... and some other stuff.
It was a very entertaining evening. I learned a lot, including about the existence of something called the 'Circle Line Challenge'; an activity I hope to undertake sometime. But I must also thank Lawrence for pointing me at the Volcano Choir. It's the latest guise of Justin Vernon, frontman of Bon Iver and much played at New River Restaurant.

There was even some dancing. To Wham's Last Christmas, I believe.

Sharron and Anna showing us all how it's done.

Espresso Sponge

Look at the rise on that!
This was developed as a bitter foil to my much lauded butterscotch mousse. And foil me it almost did. Why is so easy to make a chocolatey chocolate cake but so difficult to get a decent coffee hit? As a friend of mine pointed out, the only real coffee flavour in commercial cakes is in the icing. He was right.

The cake above is my fifth iteration and I think this one works. This is hardcore cooking; high-caffeine cake. This is a stay-awake bake (OK, I'll stop now). This is a Genoise sponge made with instant espresso powder and then soaked with a syrup made with ten espresso shots... AND Khalua coffee liqueur. You see what I mean? Intense.

I used Genoise because of its rep for structure and soak-ability. It has an elastic texture and doesn't disintegrate when saturated with suryp. Devil's food cake or Victoria sponge can't compete. Genoise can be tricky, relying on physical aeration rather than a chemical rise. No soda or baking powder here, you whisk eggs and sugar until frothy and then do your best to bake in that air.

Ribbon Stage
The Genoise is a Michel Roux Snr recipe. Some cooks tell you to whisk the eggs and sugar over a bain marie, but I can vouch that this isn't necessary and Mr Roux doesn't. Joe Pastry (!) also gives good advice but I didn't follow his recipe.

You'll need to make the espresso syrup first. Mix ten shots of espresso coffee with the same volume of sugar syrup (equal weights of sugar and water brought to the boil then allowed to cool). How you get the ten shots is up to you. A trip to Starbucks means this will be a prohibitively expensive cake. If you have no machine at home, maybe invite yourself over to a friend who has... and line a pocket with a plastic bag. Waitrose does free coffee if you have a Waitrose card (was there ever any doubt that I did!?) so you can pick up a double shot on each visit. Whatever. 

Boil the espresso syrup until it's... syrupy but still spoonable. Remember it will thicken as it cools. Blimey, that's a rubbish instruction. Sorry. I'm not at my best today. When the syrup's cooled, add 2 - 4 shots of Khalua coffee liqueur, depending on how drunk you want your kids to get when they eat it. Hey, drunk and hyperactive - fun combo. Perhaps have the neighbours' kids around too and stage races.

You'll need a Swiss Roll tin for this recipe. It's important. They are usually around 30 x 20cm. Line the bottom with baking paper and butter the sides well.

So... melt 30g of unsalted butter. Set aside and allow to cool.  in a large bowl, whisk 125g caster sugar with 4 medium eggs until the mix is at the 'ribbon stage', that is when the whisk/beaters leave visible trails (as pictured). This takes a while, so get comfy. Put the radio on or maybe start a minor argument with a family member to pass the time (as I did). This takes at least five minutes. I don't think you can over-whisk so just stick in there. When your batter is properly aerated, fold in 125g of sifted flour combined with four heaped teaspoons of instant espresso powder. You could use normal instant but you could just buy a tasteless cake in Asda too. You could use that old tin of Mellow Birds at the back of the cupboard (there's a reason no one drank it) but you may as well just slap me across the face next time you see me. Back to the flour folding... Do this in several stages. Folding should be GENTLE, done with a big spoon or a spatula. If you beat this baby now you will be baking biscuits. GENTLE! You should see no real reduction in volume. Now fold in that 30g of melted butter.

Without delay, gently pour the batter into the tin and smooth into an even thickness. Bake in the middle of the oven at 190°C for 15-18 minutes. You know it's cooked because it will smell cooked and because the middle will feel firm. It should also just be coming away from the sides. If you used a proper Swiss roll tin, the cake will be brimming right at the top. Made correctly, the Genoise is wonderfully flat. This makes it easy to get constructive without having to resort to cake shaving (terribly wasteful).

Remove the cake and allow to stand for five minutes. Now spoon on the coffee syrup to cover the entire cake evenly. Allow the cake to stand for another ten minutes then flop it out and repeat the syrup thing on the other side.
I cut my cake into 21 pieces (7 x 3). To ensure accuracy I made a paper template, poked holes in the paper and dusted the cake with icing sugar. Lift off the template and you have white dots to aid your cutting. I thought this was genius. No doubt it's been done before but I'm damned if I'm going to do a web search just to prick my puffery. Anyway, I have too much time on my hands and you feel free to get all freestyle.

To assemble my dessert I layered the cake pieces with whipped vanilla cream. I dusted the top with cocoa powder for a nice velvety texture. The cake was served with the butterscotch mousse, salted peanut brittle pieces, peanut brittle crumb (all the bits of brittle that broke, blitzed!), kirsch macerated black cherries and blackberry & clove syrup.

With apols to the square plate haters. You know who you are.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

(the) Smoked haddock tart (is dead)

It does look pretty but I'm not convinced. It's the pastry. Essential in a tart, of course, but increasingly I feel, an enemy of fish. These tart cases were good and thin, made with 'pate à foncer' (the one above was actually my worst) but still I think it interferes with the fish too much. Maybe I've never been convinced by pastry and fish. Salmon en croute isn't a winner for me. Fish pasties? Perish the very thought. It's the dryness of the pastry defeating the fish. Much better to make a gratin of the mix in a ramekin, then I can leave the mix slightly wet and creamy and top it with a crust of crispy, seasoned breadcrumbs; drizzle it with this or that. Pile up the fish flesh so the top just chars in the oven. Perhaps serve this with a selection of baby veg à la Grecque, slightly pickled but very aromatic carrots, fennel and green beans. Perhaps some soft yolked quail's eggs (but, oh, the peeling!).

I adore smoked haddock. Gently poached, crowned with an egg and it's one of my 'final meals'. It's right up there with pate de foie gras and truffle with brioche toast, followed closely by skinny chips and a whole plateful of dippy fried eggs.

Tomato concasse (pictured above) is simply peeled, deseeded and chopped tomatoes with a zingy vinaigrette. I didn't peel though. I often don't. It looks like a lot of work only to remove flavour. Text books complain of tough, indigestible skin. Maybe toms were different back in the day but I don't find it offensive. Same with red peppers. I suspect cheffy sensibilities clicked way past the 'no one cares' point. Anyway, I added lots of chives and some chopped baby scallion/spring onion stems too.

But look, here's the recipe for both the pastry and the filling. Make your choice.

While I remember, I need to rant about smoked haddock. Just WHO is buying the yellow stuff? It's dye. It used to be nasty tartrazine, a coal tar derivative (now banned) but the stuff in supermarkets is probably turmeric and/or anatto, which is natural at least. But why would you choose to add chemicals? They have nothing to do with the smoking process. I don't care if it 'looks right', don't do it. Sometimes the only haddock left available is the custard coloured nonsense and then I HAVE to buy it because I LOVE smoked haddock. Enough!

Let's all calm down. You can't make pastry in a rage.

Pate à Foncer (flan pastry) - makes about 500g of pastry, enough for two large flans or eight tartlets.

This is easy to make and very well behaved. In fact, it's offensively easy to make. You don't need pastry hands you don't need hours bashing butter. It doesn't break or crumble and accepts much abuse and rerolling. It does shrink a fair bit though. I leave my crusts overhanging and only trim to size after blind baking when the pastry is still flexible. If you cut the pastry after the second bake, you risk chunks falling away, unless you have a VERY sharp knife. This recipe is a Michel Roux Snr, as are almost all of my pastry. 

In a food processor, pulse up 125g unsalted butter and 250g plain flour until it looks like breadcrumbs (a matter of seconds). add a good pinch of salt, the same of castor sugar and a beaten egg and pulse again a few times until the mix starts to come together. Finally dribble in 40ml of cold water while pulsing. The mix will coalesce into large chunks. You'll hear this as well as see it. That should have taken no longer than five minutes, including time to weigh the ingredients.

You can, of course, do this the old fashioned 'food ec' way in a bowl, rubbing together the butter and flour between your fingertips until it's breadcrumbed then add the egg etc and mix with a spoon.

Remove the pastry and work it with the heel of you hands for a few seconds until it's smooth. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes. This makes it much easier to handle and roll out. It'll keep for a few days in the fridge. After this it takes on a nasty grey pallor (I forgot some once alright!?).

Roll out the pastry to 2mm thick (less than a pound coin, more like a 50p). Cut out slightly larger circles than you need to line the tin(s). Press well into the sides of the your tart tin(s) but leave an overhang. prick the base all over with a fork. This stops steam bubbles ruining your base. Line with foil or baking paper and fill with baking beans/lentils/ball bearings. Bake at 180°C. Ten minutes for individual tartlets, 20 minutes for a large tart. Remove from oven. Remove beans and lining. Trim tart to tin edge with a sharp knife. Return pastry to oven and bake for another 10 -12 minutes. the case should be pale brown (see pic). Remember it will be further baked once it's filled.

Smoked haddock tart/gratin mix - serves 8 as a starter (or 4 as a main course, or one fat, middle aged man.)

This is basically adding part poached haddock to a white sauce enriched with eggs and marscapone.

Take 800g of undyed smoked haddock. This is about two fillets. Place in a shallow pan and cover with 800ml of full fat milk. Bring this to the boil gently. Remove from the milk. The fillets should now be just cooked enough for you to flake. if not. Place back in the warm milk for another minute. The fish shouldn't be cooked, just yielding to the thumb. Remove all skin and bones. Check again for bones. Set aside.

Strain the poaching milk and keep. In a clean pan, melt 50g of unsalted butter. When melted add 50g flour and beat, over a low heat, until smooth. This is called a roux btw. Slowly add the reserved fishy milk, beating to integrate before adding more, until you have a white sauce. Sieve if you have lumps that defeat destruction but you really shouldn't have, unless you added the flour too quickly. Simmer for a few minutes to cook out the raw flour flavour. The sauce should now be quite thick. Now add two tablespoons of marscapone, three teaspoons of English mustard and 200g of tangy, mature cheddar cheese. Season with salt and black pepper. Allow to cool for fifteen minutes.The cooled sauce may taste quite high with mustard but that pitch will be baked off. Don't worry. Trust me. Don't go all Dijon on me. Now gently stir in four egg yolks (that's why we cooled the sauce -otherwise you'd now have white sauce and scrambled eggs). Finally, stir in the haddock, keeping it chunked up.

You can now either fill your tart cases or simply use ramekins and top with seasoned breadcrumbs. In either case, bake for 15-18 minutes at 180°C for a soft filling, as I like, or 20 minutes if you want a firm tart.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Back in bed

Ge' orf moi laaaand
Last year I made the mistake of admiring my growth; essentially leaving the veg in the ground to rot while I preened. Not this year: I'm going to pluck with impunity.

The plants you can see are last year's survivors: strawberries, tomatoes and some suicidal lemon verbena. Despite the netting I think my bed hosted a fox party, nothing else can explain the peculiar devastation I found one morning. The big blank spaces are where the new potato plants are. Two crops this year: an early and a main. Potato harvests come in intervals I learned (too late). Last year's crop was so miserable.  It can't be worse in 2014 can it? I'm told too that strawberry plants yield better on the second year. I bloody hope so.

The new planting includes red lettuces and a few weird looking (so, good) bronze lettuces, spring onions and celeriac. In pots I also have peas, mainly for the delicious baby shoots and pods.

There is a certain jaunty thrill to declaring to guests that you are going out to the garden to pick their dinner. I did last year with the kale. Food that fresh needs little cooking. Oh, apart from potatoes... If I had any. 

Beauticians & butterscotch

What's the collective noun for beauticians? A pride? A pluck? Maybe a chortle? Tessa Stevens is one such and well known in Enfield for her salons/parlours - I'm not sure of the terminology. She booked in with a posse of friends and colleagues, all in the business, and their spouses, who weren't. They arrived with a sense of determination... to enjoy themselves. The evening would be flogged for fun. It dare not resist.

Tessa's posse. She's third from the right.

Marc Spelman, Tessa's partner and a seriously impressive magician arrived later after a gig. He wowed my son/waiter Etien on a 2013 visit. That's Marc on the right.

We were planning on doing a before and after group shot. But no one remembered the 'after'. Shame, as I fancied making something of the fabulous 'appearing' magician. 
It was Zoe's birthday so Tessa had brought a prearranged and home made cake: chocolate and peanut butter; Zoe's favourite. I had agreed a dessert I hoped would complement the cake.

I was trying to develop my much admired butterscotch mousse from Daisy and Sally's visit. I needed a recipe that didn't necessitate a whipper and that didn't reduce down to a sticky puddle in ten minutes. I plumbed a Nigella idea, not normally my choice but she is famous for being sweet and sticky.

Too sweet, a midweek trial proved; muscovado overkill. (Though no talk of a sugar rush please, it doesn't exist. Yet another food myth). I modified the Nigella, adding more cream and meringue (yeah, NOW it's healthy) and served it with chantilly cream for a flavour contrast. For texture, I made a salted peanut brittle and blitzed this to a jagged crumb. I stuck in a long langue de chat too, for no good reason other than to stop the dessert looking too splodgy.

To make Butterscotch Mousse (serves 8 or 20 depending on how sweet their teeth are).

This is a combination of butterscotch, whipped cream and simple French meringue.

Melt 75g unsalted butter with 100g muscovado sugar and boil for three minutes. Add 200ml of double cream and bring to the boil again. This is the butterscotch. Set aside to cool (as in: you should be able to poke a finger in without a third degree burn).

Whip 200ml double cream to soft peaks (don't let it get too stiff) and fold into the cooled butterscotch.

Whisk three egg whites to soft peaks then gradually add two tablespoons of caster sugar and continue to whisk until the meringue is firm and glossy. Fold this into the butterscotch/cream. Fold it until there is no streaking of mixture but be gentle; don't flump out the air you've just spent ten minutes whisking in or your mousse will sit like a damp rag in your stomach.

The mousse should be refrigerated until needed but don't keep it longer than a few hours. I make mine about 30 minutes before serving so it's chilled but still light.

I'd like to develop this into a full dessert rather than just an accompaniment. The issue is the sweetness. A few spoonfuls are delicious but a bowlful is sickly.  I'm going to try making an espresso Genoise sponge soaked with a coffee syrup; a near bitter element to foil the sugar. Pictures and progress will be reported.

Incidentally, no one knows what the Scotch part of the name means; certainly nothing to do with kilts, lochs or distilleries. It might have been scotching as scoring, cutting the confection up like toffee or it could be scotch as scorch, the heat needed to caramelise the sugar.

Oh, and Angelo, I'd love some of the olive oil if you can spare. Sounds awesome. Thanks.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Spring lamb and legumes crushed

Rack of lamb chops with a herb crust

Rack of lamb is a prized joint, both tasty and tender if treated with some respect. It is usually presented French trimmed, meaning the tougher muscle is removed from between the ribs which are then left protruding. Any decent butcher will do this for you. I use F. Norman in Oakwood, North London. I've noted the supermarket packs also tend to remove the top fat and so, much of the flavour. Racks can be sewn together and formed into a crown. But that's too fancy for my table. I serve the meat with a simple dish of crushed broad beans and peas that have been blanched and then heated with olive oil, mint and marjoram. The flavours as well as the colours complementing well.

Rack of spring lamb with a herb crust

Crusting the meat. Vibrant and tasty.
This dish is based on a Gordon Ramsey recipe but there are many others just like it. You need three ribs per person. Racks are normally eight or nine ribs. This recipe has the advantage that the lamb is cooked once then rested before being crusted and cooked again just before serving.

Make your herby crust mix by mixing two handfuls of breadcrumbs with about a half handful of grated parmesan. Blend this with a good sprig of parsley, coriander, thyme and rosemary. Add a drizzle of olive oil until the mix comes together. It should be an attractive and vivid green. Add more parsley if it's not.

After scoring the top fat and seasoning well with salt and pepper, sear all sides of the rack in a smoking hot pan. You want a good brown colour. Now roast the meat for around 12-15 minutes (depending on the size of the rack) at 220°C.  I was using organic Gloucestershire lamb and these were fairly hefty. Supermarket cuts seem to be more delicate.
Out of the oven and while still warm, brush liberally with Dijon mustard. The mustard will melt into the meat. Then press the meat into a tray of the crust mix, coating all sides. The meat should be rested for at least 20 minutes... or until needed.

For a pink medium eat, the lamb should be returned to the 200°C oven for another 10-12 minutes, but again, if the joint is small, make an inspection cut before time. When ready, cover with foil and let rest for ten minutes. Then joint the lamb into chops and plate up.


The one downside of a rack: it yields little roasting juice. Instead, I make a stock of the roasted meat trimmings with a chopped roasted shallot and some rosemary in two litres of water. No trimmings? Try a half kilo of scrag end - a couple of quid at most - roasted for thirty minutes at 220°C. Reduce this right down to almost a syrup, adding a good glass of port and a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly towards the end.

Crushed and herbed peas and broad beans (to serve 8)

No it's really not like mushy peas. I'm actually a big fan of the guacamole of the North and this ain't it. 
Broad beans, peas and a red spatula

Take 400g each of frozen petit pois and baby broad beans (Waitrose sells these). The baby versions are sweeter than their elder siblings. Frozen? I know, I know, but unless you are literally podding yourself and walking the produce to the kitchen table then frozen is best. So called 'fresh' peas in the supermarket are like lead shot even after a day or two.

Blanch both peas and beans separately for a couple of minutes in plenty of boiling water, until they float. Plunge into ice water (the legumes not you) and set aside until needed. Before serving,  in a blender or (better) food processor, whizz up the pea/bean mix with a tablespoon each of fresh mint and marjoram. Make an effort to find the marjoram, it's an intriguing flavour, like a more erudite and interesting oregano. Don't puree the veg, you want texture. Add 180ml of good olive oil and gently heat. Why gentle? Because a fierce heat will turn those luscious greens to an unappetising dun. Finish off with a seasoning of salt and white pepper and the juice of half a lemon.

To serve, put a mound (must be a better word than mound? Heap? Pile? Nope.) of peas in the centre of the plate, surrounded by three chops and a drizzle of lamb and port reduction. I'd serve them with a deep dish of potatoes dauphinoise but you could go lighter. Perhaps some Yorkshires? They aren't just for beef.

Some of the photos here were taken by my friend Bee Rawlinson. You can see more of her excellent work here. She can find beauty in the most mundane of subjects (apart from me - she did try). You'll also see much more of her work on this blog in the coming months. If you need a food photographer, let me know and I'll put you in touch.

So Marc said: You sounded intelligent when you talked about food, now you sound like a child.

It's because I was talking about football. I know nothing about football. The trouble is, most men can't quite accept that I mean this; that I know NOTHING. They think I'm being self deprecating; that I have, as most men do, a working knowledge of the game and the current positioning of the Premiership. I don't. Men look at me, blinking with something like annoyance, like I've let the side down. Honestly nothing. I even told my Frank Lampard story: that I met him at a BBC party once and asked him what he did. To be honest, I wouldn't recognise him if I met him again now. Sorry Frank. I'd be able to point out Dave Beckham or that Man U player who the Mock the Week panellists claim sleeps with old ladies and looks like a potato... but almost no one else. So Marc was probably justified in his assertion.

Marc's party had roast onion and goats cheese tart for starters. Mains of rack of spring lamb with crushed peas and broad beans. I backfilled the deal with big creamy portions of potato dauphinoise.

They decided to go for, what henceforth will be known as, the 'Cheers' shot. Marc's on the far right (of the picture, I hasten to add, no idea of his politics).

Pictured below is the lamb and crushed peas & broad beans along the vegetarian option of Yorkshire boats (or coffins) filled with roast veg in a sweet and sour(ish) sauce.

And the onion and goats cheese tart starter. It's not much of a looker, I know.

And the potatoes dauphinoise... afterwards.

Rooney! That was the fellow.

Daisy & Sally, salty mousse and cats' tongues

"I'm going to be be late." Said Daisy. She was calling from a field in Cambridgeshire. I understood, she was excited. She was, after all, on the set of her new drama series. I can say no more than that. 

Daisy and Sally are both TV writer friends of mine and have been 'planning' this visit for months now. As this was a semi-social event I added another small course; a pre-dessert. Daisy had her heart set on a sticky toffee pudding but I'd thought it too heavy now we're in spring (kinda, sorta). I compensated by devising a salted caramel mousse. This is a technical thing, only made possible with the use of a whipper - a piece of pro kitchen kit. You mix salted caramel sauce with liquid egg white and compressed nitrogen gas and squirt. That's the theory. In practice, it's all about density and temperature. Too warm and the mousse will blurt and dribble; too cold and it will sulk in the can, never to be seen. However  on the night all things came together. It is one of the most delicious things I've made but it doesn't keep well - a half life of about three minutes. This shortlivedness necessitated a bit of table theatre: shot glasses being filled and handed round with haste. I also made some crisp langue de chat biscuit spoons to eat the mousse with. The trick here was not to eat the spoon before you finish the mousse.

A temptation not everyone could resist. Much fingering followed!

Biscuit spoons. Langue de chat is 'cat's tongue in French.
They look nothing like a cat's tongue though so no idea why the name. 
I was doing my rack of lamb with crushed peas and broad beans for the first time, combined with a vegetarian alternative of Yorkshire pudding boats filled with roast veg. Both need very accurate timings. I especially didn't want to serve grey meat. Rack of lamb is a pricey cut and is best served still pink. But also, no one wants either a doughy Yorkie or burnt batter.

Course, in the rush, I frickin' forgot the group shot. Table shots is all I have.

Daisy is here, in the middle.

And Sally, also in the middle.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Caroline and the 'reverse Keeler'

Caroline was booked in as a party of ten but after two rather serious phone calls was reduced to a six. This meant they were faced with rather a large joint of pork belly to contend with. There were no complaints. They didn't quite finish it all off.

Not to scale
 My youngest son Etien, on waiter duty that night, was rather thrown to find one of Caroline's guests was Tracey, his primary school teacher. Always a certain tension when serving 'Miss'.

I'd warned them about the group shot and at first, despite my urgings, wanted to go for the standard 'school shot'. I thought we should at least do this properly, with some chairs for the front three. By this time the men had decided they wanted to look mean and moody. And anyway, Tracey changed the look of the thing with her 'reverse Keeler'.

Caroline's front right. Do the men look mean and moody? Not sure they do.
As I suspect will be the case, the set-up shots reveal rather more than the official picture. I love this one. The men still don't look mean though.

And finally, I'm happy to report that there was also a little dancing. Very unusually, the men initiated it with This Charming Man. But here's Caroline and Tracey dancing to Queen.

Wet mushrooms and John Torode

Firstly, apologies. This is shameless 'sleb piggy backing. Mr Torode only makes the most fleeting of appearances here, and then only by twitter. Secondly, this isn't nearly as funny as I hoped it'd be. Maybe I'm not on form today but this is quite a dry read (and that's pretty much the only gag herein).

John Torode did initiate this post because he scolded a Masterchef contestant for immersing mushrooms, claiming they soak up water 'like a sponge' and wash away flavour. I've always thought this was a piece of kitchen myth so tweeted John Torode and the Masterchef program:

@MasterChefUK @JohnTorode1 if mushrooms absorb water "like a sponge", why don't they swell up and burst when it rains?

He replied:

@NewRiverDining @MasterChefUK .. Because the top ok the underside absorbs the water, which doesn't get wet when it rains .

OK, so even allowing for some strangeness in his language, this still isn't a very satisfactory response. Rain bounces for a start and mushrooms sit in vegetation which gets wet with precipitation and dew. If mushrooms act like sponges wouldn't the moisture be wicked off anything that comes in contact with them? John didn't reply to my further replies with links to debunking websites but someone called @HelenWestern did suddenly launch herself at me "you're clearly no fungi to be with". I can only assume she's his internet minder.

Purists talk of using a stiff, dry brush or wiping with a damp cloth but I prefer to wash mushrooms as I've noticed sizeable pieces of soil (I hope it's soil) can get trapped inside the mushroom gills. Wiping will not remove these. Yes, it's easy to wipe buttons, chestnuts, ceps and portabello but what of delicate oyster, trompette de la mort or pied bleu? There's no way you can wipe the deeply pleached and perforated surface of a morel.

Sod that!

Mushrooms are 90% water anyway so will a little external dampness really make much of a difference to their flavour? Cooking them is about removing water.

McGee debunked this some time ago. As have several others. But I decided to do my own investigation. I do, so you don't have to. No mushrooms were hurt in this process. That's a lie. They all died and were eaten but at least they didn't die in vain. They perished in a perfectly delicious ham hock, rocket and vermouth sauce.


I weighed a supermarket pack of chestnut mushrooms. 324g. I had accounted for the weight of the plastic box.

I washed them. I would normally put them in a colander and give them a blast under a cold tap but this is the nuclear option.

Then I shook off the excess water and weighed them again in their original packing. They were still damp to the touch.

335g. They have taken on 11g of water, that's just over two teaspoonfuls. 11g represents an increase of mass of 3%. This is more than I would have expected but I seriously doubt this is enough to wash away the flavour of the mushrooms. There were about 20 mushrooms in the pack so that's about half a gram of water each. And certainly, much of that was surface water and so would evaporate on contact with a hot pan. A 3% take-up cannot be equated to a sponge. 

I think it's therefore safe to wash mushrooms. See, no jokes.