Oscar Wilde said that. Or a character in one of his novels did. It reminds me of me, of the bad habits I’ve been nursing. These days I come home, swearing to do some useful, necessary thing, but instead plunge headfirst into the pursuit of pleasure. I’m a walking appetite. Salt, water, moon, bread, tang, sweat, sweets. It’s extraordinary, the way things taste.
Fun fact? Sasha Grey took her stage name from A Picture of Dorian Grey. An interesting study in appetites, Sasha. And the book. And the name.
But this post isn’t about books or starlets or stars. It’s about living in the body. It’s about how my world has distilled into a whirlwind of soul-soothing senses—keen senses. So please don’t think I’m gloating when I say this is the best thing I’ve ever made. I’m not gloating. I’m reporting to you, from somewhere north of Xanadu, that this dish is, objectively, according to the logic of fat-on-fat-on-the-universe’s-finest-mushrooms, the best thing I have ever made. Possibly the best thing ever.
But if you were to come over for dinner, and if I thought anything of you, I don’t believe I’d make these mushrooms. I don’t believe they can be remade. First, the mood was critical. I was alone and it was twilight there was good wine and the sound of the lake and a mean hunger. Second, it was a good simple thing, a dish of pristine ingredients un-fucked-around-with. There was the fatty intensity of the farm-egg yolk and the sweet ooze of the polenta and a salty butter-crust on the foraged mushrooms.
Jesus, the mushrooms. One mushroom that tasted, literally, like the skin of a flawlessly roasted chicken. I’m talking about the orange one in the photo, on the left. Someone please tell me the name of that mushroom. It was despicable. There were great oysters and shitakes and bellas too. But.
But then you fry them in butter with garlic and lemon until they’re just beginning to singe. You nestle them in polenta simmered smooth in homemade stock and kissed by more butter. Plop a quivering egg on top and you’re done. Maybe a shave of Parmesan, a sprinkle of parsley. Do I need to give you the recipe? Even if I gave you the recipe, I couldn’t give you these mushrooms, this meal.
Wild Mushrooms with Polenta
- 8 oz mixed wild mushrooms, cleaned and separated
- 1/2 cup coarse ground cornmeal
- 2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade, plus 1/4 cup
- 1-2 eggs, poached
- 2 gloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 2 tbsp plus 1 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- Chopped parsley
- Kosher salt and pepper
Bring chicken stock to a simmer in a medium pot. Add coarse-ground cornmeal and lower the heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for up to 10 minutes, until the cornmeal absorbs the liquid and it has reached the consistency of very runny mashed potatoes. Taste and season with salt.
Meanwhile, melt 2 tbsp of butter with olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and stir occasionally until browned, about 7 minutes. Taste and season with salt. Add the garlic and lemon juice.
Meanwhile, poach the eggs. (Good instructions in this recipe.)
When the polenta is almost done, add 1 tbsp of butter and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese. Add 1/4 cup chicken stock to the mushrooms and simmer until mostly evaporated. Toss mushrooms with parsley and more salt and lemon juice, if necessary.
To plate: a ladle of polenta, a generous pile of mushrooms and the poached egg on top. Sprinkle generously with grated Parmesan cheese and fresh ground black pepper.