Am Bratach No. 227
September 2010

The Inner Man
by Chris Duckham

Now that the children are back at school it seems that summer is probably over for another year, although of course it hasn’t been much of a summer when seen from most perspectives. After such a hard and prolonged winter it would have been nice to have had an old fashioned, warm summer, especially for the children who love swimming in the sea. Not much opportunity for that this year. From the perspective of the forager though it has actually been a good summer. The local wild mushrooms seem to have been even more plentiful than usual and at times the chanterelles at one of my favourite spots seemed nearly to carpet the ground. Just this morning I also came across several excellent specimens of both brown birch boletes and orange birch boletes while out walking the dogs. The wild raspberries also seemed more plentiful this year and we’ll soon be on the hunt for blackberries once more.

Although the season for some of our foraged ingredients is often short, I do try and use them on the menu as much as possible. So it is that at this time of year the menu changes quite often (much to the bemusement of some recent customers who had booked in twice, some two weeks apart) and it is perhaps the time of year with maximum culinary creativity going on in the kitchen. By November nothing much seems to change until April.

So what to do with this glut of wild mushrooms? Generally I have always tended to use them more as a garnish, particularly with beef or shellfish. But it would be better, perhaps I thought, to take the mushrooms themeselves as the starting point for a dish. What goes best in partnership with mushroom? Bacon certainly (and egg), and hard cheese, and especially onion (just think of classic French mushroom duxelles). More surprising affinities might be celeriac or even dill (a combination much loved in Eastern Europe, apparently). So a starting point for a dish might be some of these flavours combined together. After some experimentation I found that a poached egg topped with a little grated Tain cheddar and served with a wild mushroom puree and some sauteed chanterelles seemed to be an acceptable work in progress. Later on the addition of a stock-based but bacon-infused sauce seasoned with a light dash of vinegar and with a final flourish of a scattering of rye bread croutons seemed to me to tick the remaining boxes needed for any savoury dish — a touch of acidity and a little bit of crunch as well. Now we just have to see what the customers make of this course this coming weekend. And of course as soon as the chanterelles are finished for another year the whole thing will have to come off the menu again anyway and it will be time to think up something else!

Chris runs the Cote du Nord restaurant at Kirtomy

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