Strolling around the Farmer’s Market the other day, I was done with the essential purchases and soaking up a little sun while contemplating a few extras. Eggs, chicken, chard, salmon, strawberries—check. Now how about some cheese and maybe a jar of raspberry jam?
I passed the mushroom vendor a couple of times as I circled, waiting for the crowd in front of the cheese stand to thin out. A pleasant-faced young man with sandy hair and a hopeful expression, he stood behind a table burgeoning with oyster mushrooms displayed as if they were growing right out of little cardboard fruit boxes. The air felt a little cooler around that table, as if it brought with it a whiff of dark, damp basement or cool forest glade. He looked almost young enough to have sent away for his mushroom operation, to an address he found in the back of a comic book, right between the x-ray glasses and the snapping gum.
The mushrooms were perfect. Firm, pale, abundant oyster mushrooms crowded each branching stalk, ranging in size from baby pinky toes to silver dollars. I drifted closer and started searching for the biggest clump. Because it is, after all, one of the chief pleasures of the farmer’s market, I fell into conversation with the vendor. He grew the mushrooms himself, he said, rather than foraging them. He’d recently moved, and had to start his mushroom farm over. Oyster mushrooms were the first crop in his new place because they were the quickest and easiest to grow, but he’d have more kinds available in the fall. He also sold kits for DIY mushroom farming…by which I was briefly tempted, but managed to walk away with only a paper bag full of already-grown ones.
The preparation for the mushrooms is so simple that I can’t really call it a recipe but more of a method. But so often, simple is best when it comes to fresh foods.
Wash the mushrooms gently, pat dry, and cut them from the thick middle stalk. Place them in a skillet over medium heat and sauté dry for a few minutes until they wilt slightly and release some of their moisture. Add a small slosh of olive oil, a dab of butter, a clove of minced garlic and salt and pepper, raise the heat, and quickly finish sautéing the mushrooms.
The delicate flavor and texture of the oyster mushrooms really shine with this minimalist treatment. Most often, I eat mushrooms as part of a more complex dish, such as a stir-fry. But served simply alongside grilled salmon and greens, the mushrooms hold their own quite nicely. They could also be served over a plate of pasta tossed with olive oil and parmesan. Or just heap them on a slice of good crusty bread and have them with a glass of white wine for a lightning fast summer weeknight dinner when you are too tired to bother with much else.