A few weeks ago, as I was leaving Mahon Farmer’s Market with little Isabel under my arm, racing off to collect Hector from playschool and already 15 minutes late, I spotted a tiny stall selling mushrooms. Lucy Deegan and Mark Cribbin are the owner/operators of Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms and this – on the community stall, a class of guest spot each week at Mahon – was one of their first real forays into the market world.
I managed a swift picking of Lucy’s brain and fled before social services printed the posters with my mugshot all over them. I also had a bag of beautiful chanterelle mushrooms gripped tightly in my grimy little paw and an hour later we had them fried in butter, garlic and parsley for lunch – after a couple of mouthfuls, Hector even let up on the baleful glares in my direction.
Lucy and Mark have subsequently secured a full-time stall at the Saturday Farmers’ Market in Douglas, Cork, and have begun to augment their range of products to include, alongside a variety of wild and cultivated mushrooms, hazel tree saplings’ with truffle spores injected into the roots – that’s right, to grow your very own truffle trees!
I’ll be doing a more indepth post on Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms in the near future but for now I want to focus on something Mark gave me to try at last Saturday’s market – Porcini Dust.
‘Smell this and tell me what you think,’ he said, spilling a tiny mound of sienna-coloured dust into my palm. I took a deep snort and had instant visions of new bicycle tyres and ‘rubber dollies’, fresh from the shoe shop. Rubber! Sulphur – the sulphurous compound in the mushroom heightened to the Nth degree. It is made by drying the mushrooms (on the Aga range in Lucy and Mark’s house) and then grinding it to a fine powder. A tiny amount of sea salt is added, a mere 2% of the overall mix, and that’s it.
Mark gave me some to take home and that night, cooking a lovely joint of Dan Ahearne’s Organic Aberdeen Angus Beef Sirloin from Mahon Market, I decided to give the oul’ dust an outing.
Dan’s meat is exquisite, so good that ‘less is more’ is the best approach to take in its cooking. I often dry and store mushrooms myself, reconstituting them for stews and soups but the Pdust is a stock powder whose complexity of flavour belies its instant simplicity. I made a dry rub of 1tsp PDust, ½ tsp dried Herbes de Provence, ½ tsp sea salt and ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper. A good slather of extra virgin olive oil into the roasting pan, rubbed liberally onto the joint and then the mushroom/herb ‘dust’ rubbed into the joint with bare hands. A bulb of garlic, divided into cloves, laid around the meat and that was that. Nothing more and into the oven with it, gas mark 9 for 15 minutes for a right good searing and then turned it down to gas mark 4 for about ten minutes a lb – at just over 2lbs, the meat was back out of the oven and resting under tin foil and a tea towel inside 40 minutes. When the heat goes down, the spuds joined the meat for a roasting.
A lonely turnip lurking in the dark of the vegetable cupboard was soon made to feel very wanted indeed. The turnip is another much neglected and unsung native vegetable that can, with a little care, be transformed into mouthfuls of magnificence. This little chap, chopped into cubes, enjoyed a sauna in the steamer until soft enough to mash. A slab of butter melted in the bottom of a warm pot, ¼ tsp of a nice sweet little spice blend, Masala Gosht (cloves, cinnamon, cardamon, turmeric, pepper), added to heat, to infuse but not cook. Turnip tipped in, mashed well, then a 100mls of cream whisked through followed by seasoning to taste.
All that remained was to whip up a nice sauce for the meat. Whisking the sieved meat juices, minus most of the fat (skimmed off), a lump of butter and dollop of cream in the bottom of a pot on low heat, soon produced a glistening emulsion. A taste. Still needed a little something. Salt. Almost. A small espresso spoon of the magic Porcini Dust. Perfection!
I predict 2012 could be the ‘Dustbowl’ year in more ways than one – keep your eyes peeled for the must-have gourmet ingredient of the new year. I know it’s going to be very heavily featured in my Xmas dinner preparations.