"Mushrooms and Pinot Noir: A Kiss of Culinary Perfection"
Oregon's Magical Marriage
Author: Christina Kelly
Co-Author Jean Yates
I am a mushroom hunter and Pinot Noir lover. The combination, to quote from the movie, "Forrest Gump" is like "two peas in a pod." There is a synergy of combining the earthy, smoky flavors of a morel mushroom with the spice and velvet earthiness of a good Oregon Pinot Noir.
My grandmother used to say that pairing the two elements was like the anticipation of a culinary kiss - soft and racy, creating the desire for more. Of all things food and wine, it is my favorite meal to create and sometimes the hardest meal to get right.
Picking fresh morels isn't easy and takes a time commitment that I don't often have. But each spring, I will drive up to three or more hours to forge areas known for the delectable fungus, armed with a pillowcase (for the mushrooms), a knife for cutting, and my trusty mushroom dog, Pixel. I also take a compass and a whistle, in case I lose my sense of direction when forging with others. With dog treats and lunch in the backpack, we make a day of it.
at right, a wild Morel
Forest fires do tremendous damage, but the after-growth will often bring new energy to the forest floor, including morel mushrooms - thus the smoky flavors. If there have been any forest fires in the region, check those areas first, a year later. Keep in mind that this is an activity where it is best to go with other people because it is very easy to get lost in the woods.
If you can't wait until spring for fresh mushrooms, dried morel mushrooms are an easy substitute and can be found at natural food markets and specialty stores. Morels can be dried and frozen while still retaining its good flavors.
The key to food and wine pairing is to find the wine that compliments and enhances your dish. For my annual Sunday morel mushroom dinner, I also hunt for an earthy Pinot Noir, generally from Oregon. Two years ago, we served Domaine Drouhin, Rex Hill, Shea Vineyards and St. Innocent. Last year, we served Dusky Goose Beaux Freres, Evesham Wood and Owen Roe.
The deep, earthy tastes and meaty chewiness of mushrooms, combined with the lush, exotic and spicy Pinot Noir is a challenge. Look for a wine that is packed with bright cherry, strawberry and plum personality, with underlying ripe berry flavors that have a velvet outer edge and a mouth-filling, soft finish. It should feel like silk in the mouth.
My husband describes this meal, with the perfect Pinot Noir as the "Lauren Bacall" moment. (We love old black-and-white movies). He says my first movement after tasting a good Pinot Noir with the annual mushroom dinner is the hair toss, followed by the lowering of the voice and the "bedroom eyes" gesture, when the eyes go half-mask. He swears I say, in that Bacall, guttural voice, "This is reallllly good." He says he expects me to instruct our guests on how to whistle!
I believe it. I think the combination of mushrooms and Pinot Noir appeals to the sensual side of our nature. Good Pinot Noir should smell sexy. It is often said if Cabernet Sauvignon is wine for the intellect, Pinot Noir is for the heart and senses.
This is one of my favorite Pinot Noir and food pairings. Keep in mind that this recipe is mostly eyeball measurements, so continuous tasting is required for the right flavors that suit your meal. If the season is more for Chanterelles, by all means, substitute - it will work well with many wild mushrooms.
At right below, wild mushrooms on the Oregon forest floor
Pan Roasted Lamb Chops
with A Ragout of Morel Mushrooms:
6-8 Lamb chops, 1-1.5 inches thick
½ cup of olive oil
2-4 Tablespoons of freshly minced garlic
2 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
Liberal sprinkling of
Montreal Steak Seasoning (Costco sells it)
A small amount of the Pinot Noir to sizzle in the lamb.
Mix the ingredients thoroughly and marinate lamb for at least an hour before cooking.
Sear the lamb chops on high heat, for both sides, then cook about five minutes, depending on preference. I cook lamb medium rare. Just before removing the chops, add 1/3 cup of the Oregon Pinot Noir you intend to serve with the dinner, for flavor. Remove from pan and keep warm.
Sauté fresh or dried morels and any other mushrooms with ½ cup of shallots or fresh green onions. (With dried morels, figure 3 to 6 ounces).
Deglaze with 1-cup of red wine and 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar.
Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and black and white pepper to taste.
Allow it to reduce by half.
Add demi-glace (below)
Let simmer 10 minutes.
Add 2 tablespoons of red and yellow bell pepper for color
Spoon the sauce on a plate, then place the lamb chops on top.
Add more to cover the chops.
This is not the usual demi-glace. Ordinarily, you should strain these ingredients and end up with just the liquid. I, however, keep it all together. You can do either with great flavor.
1/4 to 1/3 lb. of finely chopped bacon
1/2 medium chopped white onion
2 small carrots, finely chopped
1/4 cup of flour
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Bay leaf, crumbled
Thyme to taste
2 cans of beef stock
Butter to taste (1-2 teaspoons)
Cook the bacon in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and carrots, stirring for about five minutes. Sprinkle with flour and continue cooking for about 10 minutes. If sauce is too thick, add butter.
Add tomato paste, bay leaves, thyme, and beef stock. Simmer over medium heat until sauce is reduced by nearly one-half.
Add the demi-glace to the ragout along with peppers for color.
This recipe is not for the faint-of-heart, anyone counting calories or on restricted diets. It is wicked and absolutely wonderful - a full court press on the tongue and tummy.
Serve with steamed brown rice, or a mushroom risotto and sauteed Red Kale (with just a little garlic, bacon slivers and olive oil).
My meal this year was once again, the kiss of culinary perfection. The first bite, combined with Pinot Noir, was decadent self indulgence and took my breath away. The morels were particularly smoky and wafted through the lamb and Pinot Noir like a thread. No one spoke for the first few minutes and then, like a sudden outburst of rain from the sky, the room filled with the sounds of laughter and conversation.