So, this was a bit of a weird one.
From initially reading the recipe, my first thought was ‘well, this will be interesting’; there are relatively few ingredients, it’s listed as ‘a main dish with rice or noodles’ and the general approaches were unlike anything I’d do instinctively.
Still, I have to do them all in the end, my interest was piqued and, most importantly, my wife was out at work, so if it was a disaster, I only had the disappointed glances from the children to deal with.
Now my first mistake, was stinginess: the recipe is written for ‘small mushrooms’ generally and the advice in the blurb is “If your local supermarket or greengrocer stocks the meaty East Asian shiitake mushroom variety, use them here; if not use button or open cup ones instead.” Now, it just so happens that my local supermarket has a plentiful stock of shiitakes but, at 179kr (about £17-18) per kilo, with 450g required for this recipe, I couldn’t quite stomach the price tag for a dinner for me and the kids, so I picked up half a kilo of button mushrooms instead. The recipe clearly evokes those kind of slippery, saucy shiitake side dishes you get on those ill-advised trips to The Wong Kei at 1am on a Friday (though I’m pretty sure those places use rehydrated dried mushrooms, and a heap of MSG to boot, but you get the idea), but I thought the button mushrooms would conjure a kind of crappy Chinese takeaway charm and, in a way, I think they probably did.
First, I poured 150ml of oil into a wok (don’t worry, you won’t be eating it all) and heated it til a sample-mushroom dropped into the pan sizzled. I then added 450g of small button mushrooms and stir-fried them for a couple of minutes, using a metal draining spoon to constantly flip them over, exposing them all to the hot oil equally. Whilst they were frying, I crushed two cloves of garlic with a teaspoon of salt, and mixed a tablespoon of soy sauce with two of oyster sauce and two of dry sherry.
After the couple of minutes’ frying, I drained any remaining oil from the pan, and added the garlic salt mixture, mixing it around for half a minute or so, til the garlic smelt fragrant and appealing, and then I tipped in the soy sauce mixture, along with a teaspoon of sugar, and simmered it all for a further two minutes.
This was the stage where I really began to think, ‘has this worked?’ No great transformation seemed to have taken place, and the contents of the pan didn’t seem to be that much more than the sum of its parts. I tasted a mushroom. ‘Well, it is tasty, I guess’ I thought, and spooned the mixture over some rice, as I called my daughters in for dinner. “What are we going to have with the mushrooms and rice?” my eldest asked, in her expectant, three-year-old’s way. “We’re just having the mushrooms and rice” I said. “It’s very tasty. Shall I chop you some cucumber as well?”. I was met with indifference.
As it turned out, the mushrooms and rice really were very tasty; seconds were asked for, and everybody cleared their plates, but there is something maybe a little lacking in having mushrooms and rice, and nothing else for dinner. Maybe next time, I’ll augment it with some steamed greens, or a side of grilled oily fish, or something like that. But the important thing is, there will be a next time, and maybe then, I’ll splash the big bucks on the mushrooms this meal deserves.
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