Fall into mushroom season

September 29, 2014

Golden pork chops smothered in sauteed chanterelles and accompanied by a simple and quick cucumber salad are a delicious way to use mushrooms this fall.

Dining out inspires dinner at home. Especially when the restaurant meal features seasonal ingredients with easy to re-create preparations. After a day of bicycling in Austria, a stunning skillet of golden pork chops smothered in pfifferlings proved splendid inspiration. Ditto for the accompanying crispy-crunchy kartoffelkroketten (potato croquettes).

Perfect timing, too, since all manner of mushrooms populate most markets in the fall. Golden-hued, funnel-shaped pfifferlings, aka chanterelles, appear in generous portions on all manner of dishes in Germany and Austria. Little wonder, with their subtle peppery taste, rich flavor and pleasing, toothsome texture. Here, fresh chanterelles can be found at farmers markets, produce stores and specialty stores such as Whole Foods. They also can be ordered online, fresh or dried. Both are quite pricey, but a little goes a long way.

Most mushrooms taste best when sauteed over high heat with a hint of aromatic seasonings. I like to combine several varieties to keep costs low and to take advantage of their individual textures. My favorite medley includes thinly sliced shiitake caps with chunks of oyster mushrooms and a small handful of those colorful chanterelles. Or course, a couple of morel mushrooms elevate any dish they grace. If button or cremini mushrooms prove the only fresh option, I enhance their subtle flavor with the complexity of dried mushrooms. I find that even the least expensive pieces of dried mushrooms pack a deep mushroom flavor.

Skillet-roasted onion and fresh garlic make a great addition to the mushrooms. If your farmers market sells those elongated red tropea onions, use them for their color and sweetness. Otherwise, employ a small red onion or a couple of shallots. A sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs, such as tarragon, thyme and oregano, promote this simple sauteed side to company fare.

Mushroom mixture handled, it’s time to talk skillet pork chops. Our Austrian repast featured perfectly cooked moist chops with a golden exterior. At home, I bring out the cast-iron skillet and crank the heat — both stove top and in the oven. I like to briefly brown the chops in a single uncrowded layer in oil suitable for high-heat cooking and then finish their cooking in a very hot oven using the convection option for speed. This two-step cooking captures moisture in even the leanest of chops.

For skillet cooking, I prefer somewhat thin pork chops: 3/4-inch chops cook evenly and quickly. Center cut, bone-in loin chops offer amazing flavor and make a beautiful presentation. A simple seasoning of salt and freshly ground pepper lets the delicate flavor of the pork shine through when topped with the herby mushroom mixture.

Potato croquettes sound hard to make. Not so much if you think of them simply as mashed potatoes coated in crunchy crumbs and pan-crisped. I add fresh chives and black pepper for flavor. A bonus: The croquettes can be shaped several hours in advance and crisped while the chops cook.

Fresh cucumbers, marinated in salt and garlic, add a crunchy element to the plate with little effort. Dinner at home is under control — time to get back on the bicycle. First stop: The market.



Prep: 25 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

You can substitute 1/4 cup dried mushrooms (rehydrated in warm water, then drained and chopped) for 1/4 pound of the fresh.

1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms, such as chanterelles, shiitake, oyster, button, cremini

6 center-cut, bone-in pork chops, each a scant 3/4-inch thick, about 3 pounds total

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 large tropea onion or 1 small red onion

or 2 shallots

2 cloves garlic

2 to 3 tablespoons safflower, sunflower or expeller-pressed canola oil

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/8 teaspoon dried

2 or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or chives

1. Clean mushrooms: Discard stems from shiitake mushrooms, trim stems of other mushrooms. Wipe caps clean. Cleaned mushrooms can be stored in the refrigerator in a paper bag for a day or two. Before using, cut large mushrooms into 1 inch slices or chunks.

2. Pat pork chops dry. Sprinkle generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature up to 1 hour or refrigerate up to 24 hours.

3. Heat oven to 375 degrees on convection or 400 degrees on conventional oven setting. Finely chop the onion or shallots and garlic. Have the herbs ready. Set all ingredients near the stove.

4. When the oven is hot, heat 1 large or 2 medium well-seasoned cast-iron skillet(s) over medium-high heat until drops of water sizzle vigorously when added to the pan. Swirl a film of oil in the bottom of the pan or pans. Add the chops in a single uncrowded layer. Cook on medium-high until the bottoms are golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Use tongs to flip the chops and brown the other side, 2 minutes more. Carefully slide the skillet or skillets with the chops into the oven to finish the cooking, 3-4 minutes. Pan juices should run clear and chops will be almost firm (but not hard) to the touch.

5. Transfer the chops to a wire rack set over a tray to collect the juices. Tent the chops with foil to keep them warm.

6. Put the skillet from the chops over medium-high heat; swirl in half of the butter. Add half of the mushrooms, onion and garlic; cook until golden, 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining mushrooms, onion and garlic. Combine all the mushrooms in the skillet; tip in any of the juices from the chops. Stir in the thyme.

7. Arrange the chops on a warm platter; spoon the mushrooms over the chops. Sprinkle with the parsley or chives; serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 312 calories, 17 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates, 34 g protein, 364 mg sodium, 1 g fiber



Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 25 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

4 medium russet baking potatoes (about 1 Ό pounds total), scrubbed, peeled if desired

1/4 cup half-and-half or milk

1 large egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup loosely packed finely chopped chives or green onions

1 cup panko or other coarse breadcrumbs

1/4 cup safflower, sunflower or expeller-pressed canola oil

2 tablespoons butter

1. Cut potatoes into 2-inch cubes; put into a large saucepan. Add salted water to cover the potatoes. Heat over high to a rolling boil; reduce heat to a gentle rolling boil. Cook until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 15 minutes.

2. Drain off the water. Working in the pan, mash the potatoes with the half-and-half, egg yolk, salt and pepper until smooth. Let stand until cool enough to handle, then stir in the chives.

3. Put the breadcrumbs into a shallow dish. Use your hands to shape the potato mixture into small football shapes, using 3 generous tablespoons per piece. Roll in the crumbs to coat on all sides. Set on a wire rack for a few minutes or up to several hours. Repeat to continue making croquettes, you’ll have 12 to 14.

4. Heat oil and butter in a very large skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the croquettes in a single uncrowded layer. Fry, turning gently, until golden and crisp on all sides, about 5 minutes. Serve hot.

Nutrition information per serving: 282 calories, 16 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 31 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 321 mg sodium, 2 g fiber



Prep: 10 minutes

Stand: 30 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

1 large or 2 medium seedless cucumbers

2 or 3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

Chopped fresh parsley

Peel the cucumbers, if you like. Cut lengthwise in half; slice very thinly. Put into a colander; stir in the garlic and salt. Let drain over a plate, 30 minutes. Use clean hands to squeeze out the excess liquid. Put cucumbers in a bowl; stir in the parsley. Refrigerate to chill a few minutes or up to 1 day.

Nutrition information per serving: 7 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrates, 0 g protein, 292 mg sodium, 0 g fiber



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