Then, butter

Nothing can cure the senses but the soul, just as nothing can cure the soul but the senses.

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.

25 thoughts on “Then, butter

  1. Leslie says:

    Angela – the mushroom is called,appropriately, the chicken mushroom.
    Not “hen of the woods” ( so named because it looks like a hen with her feathers ruffled) but chicken mushroom because, as you noticed, it tastes like chicken – or “sulfur shelf mushroom” because of the color and shape.
    They are found growing on trees – not on the ground – and are pretty
    unmistakable – and spectacular.
    Love your posts – the pix, the prose, the recipes – always a treat to find in my inbox – like finding a sulfur shelf while walking in the woods.
    Cheers ~ Leslie in Maine

  2. Angela Mears says:

    Leslie, you are a life saver. Chicken mushrhooms. Sulfer shelf mushrooms. I’m going for a stroll in the woods.

    Mike, I hope you’re wrong, but I suspect you’re right.

    Blaine, I just ate a beef sandwich and I’m starving.

    Renee, Kurt, Cass, Dad… you made my day.

  3. samantha pollack says:

    Angela – I am reading this from my favorite coffee shop, and I have to tell you – I always love your photos and your cooking approach, but this one made me feel like I was doing something inappropriate in public. Yum.

  4. The Dinner Belle for says:

    A perfectly poached fresh egg can make anything amazing, but mix it with soft polenta, parm, and mushrooms=a perfect cozy autumn meal! Think that I would add a sprinkle of really good (only really good, because bad is really bad) truffle oil to add even more richness.

    The Dinner Belle for

  5. Angela Mears says:

    Tim, I love this.

    I just joined a poetry group, and I’d been torturing myself about whether or not to write about food, or want, or love, or anything worth writing.

    Everyone else is writing about signifying. The signifier as a process. Might not be a ripe audience. But then…

  6. Pia says:

    I love recipes that happen in the moment, while I’m looking out of the kitchen window, thinking about other things. A meal that you can eat only once, and then the plate is clean, and the food is gone. And you never cook it again, because it was so perfect.

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