Fusion cuisine is ridiculous. I think it’s practitioners think that they’re “transcending cultural barriers” and that “flavors exist without contextual association” which are infuriating pseudo- intellectual sentiments. To be perfectly honest, the gangster doesn’t even know any proponents of fusion cuisine, but he commits crimes of culturally perverse flavor building on an increasingly frequent basis.
I first learned the horrific wrongfulness of interbreeding flavors or ingredients of the cuisines of two or more distinct cultures at the Higgins, which restaurant, paradoxically, taught me that flavors are just flavors. Sambal Oleck was a staple of the house, now it’s a staple in mine. Sambal does what cayenne does, only better. It’s fruitier, less abrasive, and disburses more easily. So, secretly I’m a fusion chef too. The case in point is Cauliflower Mushroom and potato soup. By which I mean Sparassis crispa, the mushroom that vaguely resembles cauliflower, not Brassica oleracea var. botrytis, the genetic mutant of broccoli, mixed up with Agaricus bisporous, the supermarket mushroom, as most internet sources seem to understand.
We found this particular sparassisafter a long wet slog through the thick underbrush of Larch Mountain. It was, like all encounters with this bizarre mushroom, a little surreal. It grows from the base of fir trees, right out of the area where the roots meet the ground, and it can be massive. This particular one was about twice the size of my head.
I left it in the refrigerator for a week, I have my excuses. I didn’t know that it hosted maggots. I pulled it out to make soup and some pickles and found that the base was home to not quite a swarm, but definitely a family of writhing grubs. So I did what any conscientious fungivore would do; I sliced it up and started picking them out with a paring knife. If you think that’s disgusting you should take a close look at the next piece of predatory fish that you buy at the supermarket, especially tuna. I’m just saying, at least I dig out my parasites before I eat.
Potato cauliflower soup is sort of a classic of mycological cuisine, if that “cuisine” could be said to have “classics”. So normally I would start with some salty cured pork product and render the fat out of that, then sauteé the onions, celery and a little bit of garlic in that, then add wine, then milk and potatoes. The mushrooms, previously blanched, come about 15 minute before the end. Finish with pepper, parsley, a touch of vinegar or a little lemon and serve it up with bread. But this time I forgot about the pork. I started with butter which especially sucked because I had some Armandino Guanciale that I brought back from Seattle.
The soup was lacking. Savoryness. What it lacked was something that I always thought could only be gotten from cured pork or, occasionally, from anchovies. But it was too late now and I was determined to not make a fucking mess out of it after all that. Serendipitously I happened to have a little shot glass on the counter half full of toasted, powdered dried shrimp that I needed for some Malaysian crab nonsense. So, in desperation, I added a little and simmered. When it had had time to blossom, it tasted more better. So I added a little more. The same as with the cayenne trick, the shrimp didn’t assert itself. There was nothing fishy about it, it was simply more savory, more satisfying. So you see that I am a fusion chef too. Just like all the fusion chefs from the 1990’s who made up pan- asian and Franco- Japanese and Russo- North African and….
So here you go interweb, here is something that you really need, recipes for “cauliflower mushroom” not cauliflower with mushrooms.
Cauliflower mushroom soup:
Maybe 1 big onion, diced
Maybe 2 ribs of celery, also diced
about a clove of garlic, thin sliced
2,3 or 4 bay leaves, as you wish
a little bundle of thyme sprigs
pinch of cayenne or 1/4 t Sambal
1/4 t toasted powdered dried shrimp
white wine (whatever you have, provide it’s not white zinfandel, is, I’m sure, just fine) or white vermouth
a quart of chicken stock
a half pint of cream
4 yellow potatoes, peeled and cubed (not red, they won’t thicken the soup properly)
a goodly chunk, maybe a pound, of dewormed, blanched, bite sized chunks of cauliflower mushrooms
It’s fairly straightforward: melt the butter in your best pot, sauteé your onion, celery and garlic along with the bay leaf, but do not brown. Add the white wine, the cayenne and the shrimp powder and simmer briefly. Add the stock and the potatoes and season the soup well with salt (it should taste close to how the finished product will tase) and simmer, add the thyme in about 15 minutes. Add the mushrooms a little before the potatoes are done and when the potatoes are done fish out about a half cup, mash them well, mix them with a little stock and cream and stir them back into the soup. Then add the cream, cook until the soup thickens up nice then add the finely chopped parsley and chives and whatever else the soup needs including, perhaps, a squeeze of lemon or a little vinegar.