d’Uxelles—Mushroom Elixir

October 19, 2009

Santé, modération et raffinement (health, moderation and refinement)
~François Pierre de la Varenne (1615–1678)

A classic, elegant utility player on your culinary field…an old hand that retains keen relevance in today’s kitchens.

Conceived by heralded chef La Varenne as a tribute to his boss—Nicolas Chalon du Blé, Marquis d’Uxelles, maréchal de Franceduxelles are a paste-like reduction of finely minced mushrooms that have been slowly cooked with shallots and butter until all the liquid has evaporated. The Marquis d’Uxelles was the royal regional ruler of Chalon-sur-Saône, thought by some to be the birthplace of La Varenne.

La Varenne was a pioneer. He helped create and promote a revolutionary style of cookery that broke with the Italian model that had earlier so dominated French cuisine. Author of La Cuisinier françois (1651), the founding text of modern French cuisine, his writings essentially codified French gastronomy for the age of Louis XIV and even transported it into the modern era. Found in these hallowed pages are such classic techniques as bisques, béchamel, bouquet garni, fonds and reductions. Local herbs became the vogue, vegetables were prepared with care to retain freshness, and emphasis was squarely placed on preserving the integrity of ingredients instead of masking them as had been the practice previously.

La Varenne authored other pieces, including Le Pâtissier françois, which is generally considered the first comprehensive French work on making pastries.

Duxelles serve as a way to add mushroom essence to dishes that benefit from this intense and complex flavor. The uses for duxelles are manifold: meats, poultry, fish, eggs, frittatas, omelets, soups, pizzas, paninis and so on. As a twist, some cream can be added to the duxelles to form a sauce. There is even a relatively recent piece known as ficelle picarde—a thin savory crêpe rolled around a slice of ham, bathed in gruyère cheese, enveloped in duxelles, all finished gratinéed in a cream sauce.

While simple to make, duxelles take a bit of time; first to mince all those mushrooms and then cooking off all the liquid they naturally produce. The mushrooms do not have to be of the very top quality, and little ones, mixed sizes work just fine. Depending on which mushrooms you are using, trim off any woody parts of the stalks and save them for stocks and soups. Do not wash the mushrooms. Instead, wipe gently with a damp paper towel or brush to remove any dirt. For lighter hued duxelles, discard the stems, and use only the caps.

Duxelles can be frozen for a month or so and then defrosted the night before use.

DUXELLES

5 C mushrooms, cleaned and finely minced
1-2 small shallots, peeled and finely minced
3 T unsalted butter

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large sauté pan over a moderate heat, melt the butter and add the shallots. Sweat the shallots for about 5 minutes in the butter until soft and tender.

Add the finely minced mushrooms, a pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper. Stirring occasionally, cook over moderate heat until the mushrooms throw off their liquid and then reabsorb it, leaving no liquid in the pan. It may be necessary to add additional butter, and care must be taken that they do not get crisp. They must remain soft. This process can take up to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

When done the mushrooms will resemble a dark brown, mealy, almost paste-like texture. The quantity will also have been reduced by about half.

Use for your dish, or allow to cool, spoon them into a covered jar, then refrigerate or freeze.

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