By Nigel Spence
Mushrooms are generally not high on the list of foods that Caribbean folks hold in high regard. That may be because we are not and have never been a mushroom growing or consuming society.
What I was taught when growing up was that mushrooms were poisonous and should be avoided at all costs lest you touch it, keel over and meet your Maker. As I got older the only other mushrooms ever encountered were of the hallucinogenic variety and those too came with tales of going over to the dark side, never to return to normal.
Needless to say, with all these dark tales, there was absolutely no reason for me to further explore the possibilities of mushrooms being a part of my diet.
Then came the girlfriend.
She was Italian, with a good dose of crazy, and quite opinionated.
Among the many firsts I experienced with her, one that I can mention is the introduction to EATING mushrooms.
It was love at first bite (the mushrooms, that is).
It was that savory satisfying food that I didn’t know I needed in my life, unlike the girlfriend who had to move on to someone more in keeping with her character, because at that time it just wasn’t me.
I do thank her for the introduction as it has turned out to be a “happily ever after” story with the fearsome fungus my mom always warned me about.
Mushrooms don’t need a lot of in-depth preparation for it to be awesome; sometimes the simpler the better.
SCOTCH BONNET MUSHROOMS
1 LB SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS, FRESH
2 TABLESPOONS ITALIAN PARSLEY, CHOPPED
1 TEASPOON SCOTCH BONNET SALT (RECIPE FOLLOWS)
¼ CUP EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
REMOVE STEMS FROM MUSHROOMS AND DISCARD. HEAT OLIVE OIL IN LARGE SKILLET OVER MEDIUM HEAT. PLACE MUSHROOMS BROWN SIDE DOWN IN SKILLET. LET MUSHROOMS SIT AND SAUTE IN THE OIL WITHOUT MOVING THEM FOR ABOUT 4 MINUTES. TURN OVER TO THE SIDE WITH THE GILLS AND COOK FOR AN ADDITIONAL 2 MINUTES.
REMOVE TO A LARGE BOWL AND TOSS IN SCOTCH BONNET BUTTER AND CHOPPED PARSLEY.
SERVE WARM AS A SIDE DISH OR ADD AS A FILLING TO OMELETTES, TO PERK UP A WARM SALAD OR TO ADD A NEW DIMENSION TO POTATO SALAD.
SCOTCH BONNET SALT
20 Whole Fresh Scotch Bonnet Peppers roughly chopped
1/2 Cup coarse Kosher Salt (or sea salt)
1 Large Mortar & Pestle (or food processor)
Put both ingredients in mortar and pestle and pound until it is the texture of a chunky paste.
Work in batches if your mortar and pestle is not big enough to hold everything at once.
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavour.