Mushroom season continues its stately autumnal progress. Having stocked the freezer with mushroom soup, mushroom lasagna, and mushroom pâté, I out of the blue remembered that the majority quintessentially mushroom-y dish of all of them; one I’m guessing none of us has loved in fairly a while: Mushroom Julien.
This fixture of glitzy Soviet-era eating places and theater buffets is one other of these dishes that got here to Russia with the French cooks who dominated the empire’s aristocratic culinary scene within the eighteenth-and nineteenth centuries. They introduced with them recipes and strategies, which had been progressively included into Russian delicacies leading to hybrid dishes that advanced to mirror home components, traditions, and preferences. Mushroom Julien is a basic instance of this quirk of Russian culinary historical past.
When the French “julienne” one thing — normally carrots, onions, or ham, hen or tongue — they reduce it into skinny 1-inch matchsticks. A well-liked recipe with julienne greens was (and nonetheless is in France) bouchées à la julienne: julienne greens and ham are combined with a heavy cream and butter sauce, then topped with puff pastry and baked, typically offered in particular person cocottes or ramekins. As devotees of the Bolshoi or Marinsky Theaters will instantly perceive, this places us about two levels of separation from a basic Mushroom Julien, which mixes mushrooms, Béchamel sauce and Russia’s delectable bitter cream in a metallic cocotte, topped with cheese and baked till bubbly and golden.
By some means Mushroom Julien survived the culinary bloodbath that was the Soviet revolution in meals preparation and consumption, and, extra miraculous nonetheless, Mushroom Julien inexplicably turned synonymous with all issues festive and celebratory. No Soviet-era banquet, wedding ceremony, or milestone birthday was full with out the Julien course, sandwiched between the expansive zakuska and the often-overlooked essential course. Mushroom Julien was a lot a fixture of the tradition of the Former Soviet Union that it may possibly nonetheless be discovered putting a distinctly discordant word on menus in locations like Tashkent and Ulan-Bator.
Once I take into consideration Mushroom Julien, I expertise two Pavlovian responses, and neither of them is remotely culinary. The primary is that I really feel I’m not dressed up sufficient, and the second — much more traumatic — I panic concerning the 50 American passports in my custody.
Each are reminders of my first job in Russia as a tour supervisor for giant teams of American vacationers, which streamed into the Former Soviet Union throughout the late Eighties and early Nineties. The Soviet Union may need fallen throughout these turbulent years, however its method of doing issues limped alongside for one more decade at the very least, below the aegis of the inflexible immutable organizers of such excursions on the bottom, the state-run tourism behemoth, Intourist.
Say what you need about Intourist (and I’ve) they had been robotically environment friendly. Wherever you went within the Soviet Union — from Kaliningrad to Khabarovsk — all you needed to do was stroll right into a lodge and it doesn’t matter what time of the day or evening, they might look forward to you with precisely the variety of beds you wanted, and exactly (down the final cup of espresso) the breakfast you had contracted.
No cash ever modified arms. The nationwide information, assigned by Intourist to shepherd the group round from place to position, stored an eagle eye on that facet of issues. And woe betide the group that wished one thing exterior the parameters of the set companies.
That is the place I got here in. I used to be the buffer between the unyielding, Intourist method of doing issues and the expectations of American vacationers. I needed to plead, cajole, and infrequently bribe to fill the yawning hole between these two realities, and nowhere was that extra true than with the kitchen workers with whom I danced the inscrutable minuet of bribery on the finish of every tour to obtain the easiest Gala Farewell Dinner doable.
The Gala Farewell Dinner was the dramatic apogee of every tour of Russia, an expansive meal that includes buckets — barrels generally — of alcohol, a specific amount of balalaika music, and a rundown of basic Russian and Soviet dishes. It was cannily designed to obliterate any reminiscence of all of the lackluster repasts which had gone earlier than it and float the visitors in direction of their departure from the nation on an alcohol-induced euphoric appreciation for Russia’s historical past, tradition, and sure, even meals.
The Gala Farewell Dinner hardly ever wandered off-piste to one thing experimental or non-traditional. It clung determinedly to the classics within the spirit that made Intourist a fantastic state monopoly. It started with the zakuska overture, with simply sufficient caviar to offer everybody an urge for food to purchase a couple of jars from the waiters, after which it constructed to a triumphant crescendo of Rooster Kiev with a candy coda of vanilla ice cream, all washed down with semi-sweet champagne and vodka and repeated renderings of “Lara’s Theme” by the balalaika ensemble.
What little wiggle room there was on the rigidly set menu ended up being a alternative between an additional sizzling appetizer or extra alcohol. I at all times selected Mushroom Julien, not just for its wealthy taste but additionally for its dramatic presentation in particular person cocottes on saucers, positioned in entrance of every visitor with the practiced flourish of a Soviet waiter who is aware of he’s delivering one of many stars of the night.
Aside from its intrinsic affiliation with Soviet glitzy social events, and the distinctive flourish of its presentation, Mushroom Julien’s chief enchantment is its style: a wealthy mixture of mushrooms, butter, bitter cream, and cheese. I’ve heard it described as “Mushroom Fondue” and whereas that’s technically incorrect, it’s a marvelously evocative comparability. The elegant technique to devour Mushroom Julien is to spoon it from the cocotte in dainty bites that don’t muss up your celebration frock (significantly if you’re being jostled on the busy theater buffet). The enjoyable technique to devour it’s to dunk chunks of bread into the Julien and munch on them.
For all of the unbelievable meals I’ve loved in Russian properties, I’ve by no means seen Mushroom Julien delivered to the desk. And that was true of my desk too till a couple of years in the past, when a buddy gifted us with a number of baskets of foraged mushrooms, giving me the right alternative to attempt to create this glitzy restaurant staple. And the conclusion I’ve come to is that Mushroom Julien deserves an improve in standing from sizzling appetizer to essential dish. And I hope this can encourage mushroom lovers to include this extremely satisfying creamy, umami dish into their weekly menu planning.
The recipe beneath takes a couple of liberties with the unique idea however is as worthy of your hearth Sunday evening dinner as it’s any Gala Farewell Dinner. For those who don’t personal the requisite variety of cocottes, to not fear — you possibly can deliver it golden brown and effervescent to the desk in a plain outdated cast-iron skillet or a casserole dish. Mix it with a crusty baguette, a crispy salad, and some glasses of wine, and voila! You simply received your personal fancy schmantsy glitzy night — no bribes mandatory.
“Lara’s Theme” is non-obligatory, however it works.
- 2 lbs. (900 grams) contemporary mushrooms (I really like to make use of wild mushrooms, however get what you possibly can: a mix of chanterelles, white mushrooms, Portabella will work very nicely), washed and reduce into quarters or slices
- ½ lb. (230 grams) dried mushrooms
- ¼ cup (60 ml) Madeira
- 1 giant shallot or 2 small ones, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, grated on a micro-plane
- 4 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 8 Tbsp butter, divided
- 1 cup (230 ml) entire milk
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- ½ tsp candy paprika
- 1 sprint Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup (230 ml) bitter cream
- 1 Tbsp chopped contemporary sage
- 1 tsp chopped contemporary thyme
- A number of grinds of black pepper
- 2 cups (460 ml) grated cheese (use a mix of arduous and semi-hard cheeses akin to gruyère, emmenthal, fontina, gouda, or a pleasant sharp cheddar), divided.
- Butter 6 ramekins or one casserole dish with 2 Tbsp butter.*
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF (220ºC).
Put together the mushrooms
- Put together the dried mushrooms by submerging them in a mix of the Madeira and a couple of cups (460 ml) boiling water. Let it sit for at the very least half-hour to fully rehydrate.
- Soften 2 Tbsp of butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet. When it’s foaming, add the shallots and garlic and sauté till translucent (4-6 minutes).
- Add the contemporary mushrooms and a superb pinch of salt to the skillet and sauté over low warmth till the mushrooms leach their liquid and reabsorb it once more (8-12 minutes).
- Drain the rehydrated mushrooms (retain the soaking liquid!). Chop them roughly and add to the skillet, toss briefly to mix, then take away the skillet from the warmth. Put one cup of the mushrooms in a smaller bowl and set each bowl and skillet apart to chill to room temperature.
Make the Béchamel sauce
- Soften 4 Tbsp of butter over low warmth in a saucepan till it’s foaming. Add the flour, nutmeg, and paprika and whisk to mix, then proceed whisk gently for 1-2 minutes till the flour is totally cooked, emitting a nutty scent and taking up a rusty coloration.
- Slowly whisk in 1 cup of the mushroom soaking liquid and all of the milk in ¼-cup (60 ml) increments, permitting the combination to thicken after every addition. This can be a gradual course of, so have persistence and maintain whisking gently till you might have a thick combination that coats the again of a wood spoon. When completed, add the Worcestershire sauce, sage, and thyme. Style and regulate seasoning with extra salt and paprika if wanted.
- Return the skillet with the mushroom and onion combination to low warmth. Add to it three quarters of the Béchamel sauce and all of the bitter cream and stir to mix. Proceed to stir as you add one-third of the grated cheese in small increments. When the cheese is melted into the combination, take away the skillet from the warmth and let cool.
- Divide the combination between the ready ramekins or go away it within the skillet to prepare dinner as one dish. Whether or not you’re utilizing ramekins or a skillet, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to keep away from any splatter. Unfold the remaining Béchamel over the floor of the Julien, then divide the mushrooms you might have put aside on prime so they simply poke up by way of the floor. High every Julien with the remaining cheese. Give every floor a superb grind of black pepper or mud with paprika. Bake till the combination is bubbly and golden brown on prime (10-Quarter-hour for ramekins and 18-20 for a full skillet).Let sit for five minutes earlier than serving.
Mushroom Julien is historically served in particular person ramekins or cocottes, however there may be completely nothing within the playbook that claims it must be. Cooked in a single giant, oven-proof cast-iron skillet or casserole Julien morphs effortlessly from a sizzling appetizer into a wonderful Sunday evening dinner by the fireplace (or TV) that wants solely a crusty baguette and a crisp salad to finish it.