Cup mushrooms for the body, dried porcini for the flavour. A spoonful of cream and a thimble of wine. Thyme and parsley – et voilà! An all-purpose mushroom sauce.
Mushroom sauce is the multicultural, interracial, gender-neutral, polylingual specimen in the condiments world. It is universal and universally liked.
Mushroom sauce goes with pasta, and it goes with rice. You can ladle it onto meat or onto fish. Chicken and mushroom sauce? Heaven. Beef and mushroom sauce? Oh yes. In fact I have no idea why it isn’t made more often as an accompaniment to a Sunday or holiday roast. After all, who really likes bread sauce?
Creamy mushrooms or mushroom sauce?
There is a fine line between the two: you can’t have the sauce without chunks of ‘shrooms in it and the more you whack in the merrier. Except at some point it stops being sauce and becomes a side dish. A pile of creamy mushrooms sitting on top of the steak.
And very well too – that line may stay fine forever. I like my mushroom sauce thick and chunky anyway.
Yes, you can use bog standard mushrooms, the cheapest closed cup ones, but if you think the sauce is going to have fantastic flavour, think again. Any brownish ones will serve you better: chestnut, oyster, shiitake.
But the ultimate sauce is made with the ultimate mushrooms: wild porcini, ceps or penny buns as they are variously known. And the fact that they are only available on the Continent is not as relevant in this instance: dried wild mushrooms make beautiful sauce. And you can buy them from your supermarket.
They are pricey, but you don’t need much to get the flavour. You can bulk the sauce out with cultivated ‘shrooms and I’d recommend closed cups. Oysters are a little too limp and shiitake a tad too slimy.
Rehydrate dried porcini mushrooms
Whatever you plan on doing with dried mushrooms further – unless grind them to a powder – they need to be rehydrated. Porcini especially respond very well to the treatment. No, they won’t taste like fresh but will present a passable approximation.
Simply pour boiling water over them to cover and leave to soak until cool. You can then fish them out onto butter foaming in a skillet and sauté, but keep the soaking liquid. Add it gradually back to the mushrooms cooking energetically in the butter and wait till it’s completely absorbed each time except the last; it’s a bit like cooking risotto. There - that will make the porcini almost like cooked from fresh.
Cream or no cream?
Sauce, even chunky, must be partly liquid. The soaking liquor in combination with a little wine, that’s what I like. If you don’t want to add wine (I know, far more sensible to just drink it!), replace it with light stock.
But without a little bit of cream the sauce won’t be quite right in my view. So yes – I’m all for cream in my mushroom sauce.
If you’re avoiding dairy, you can substitute double cream with soy milk or a little Greek yoghurt. I shouldn’t use coconut cream – mushrooms with coconutty flavour? Eeew.
What to spoon your mushroom sauce on?
Pasta or noodles. I love it on mashed potatoes. The same goes for jacket potatoes. Savoury pancakes, crepes or galettes. It’s beautiful with steak. It turns bland roast chicken fillet into a feast. Likewise roast pork fillet. Whole roasted cauliflower – that’s a great idea. And meatballs – not everything is always about tomato sauce.