TAKE IT FROM THE CHEF - CHARLIE PALMER - April Rains Bring Wild Mushrooms
When it comes to spring, I have a kitchen saying for all my chefs: "Not so fast."
An essential part of being a good cook means that no matter how much we crave the brighter tastes that come along with warmer weather, we can’t rush the season. Instead, we should respect the unpredictability of this in-between growing period, especially as in some parts of the country, that same mild breeze luring us out of the house in the morning becomes a blustery force driving us home at night. The availability of produce during this transitional season is an iffy proposition, and as we wait for the weather to stabilize, developing a menu that can change with the wind is tricky.
At Charlie Palmer Steak at The Four Seasons and Aureole in Mandalay Bay Resort, we always start with what we know will be spring’s earliest edible arrival—wild mushrooms. The first to appear is the earthy morel, with its brown, spongy honeycomb-like cap. Morels are particularly cherished, as they have a short, specific growing season: just several weeks in the spring. That’s why I believe in eating them every chance I get, preferring to keep them visible on the plate by featuring them in dishes that put their sublimely woody flavor center stage, like the Washington morels served at Charlie Palmer Steak with a Charcoal Grilled 14 ounce Dry-Aged T-Bone Steak and Carolina pickled ramps. With an exotic yet familiar taste, morels are often described as “meaty,” “oaky,” and all those other words typically applied to the brawny red wines that echo their deep, rich flavor and pair so well with this coveted wild mushroom, like so many of the award-winning Napa Valley Cabernets that appear on our wine list.
The next of spring’s wild mushrooms to arrive are golden-colored Chanterelles, with a delicate fluted shape and apricot-like aroma, and then come the thick stemmed and nutty-tasting Porcinis, which typically arrive as spring turns to summer. Although still in the meaty-tasting mushroom family, they have a lighter taste, which we highlight in dishes such as Sweet English Pea Ravioli with Golden Chanterelles, a spring feature on our menu at Aureole Las Vegas. These lighter mushrooms pair easily with fruitier and spicier wines, like Oregon Pinot Noirs from the Willamette Valley region, a region that we have an excellent collection of in our four-story wine tower at Aureole.
As there have been heavy rains this year, it’s likely to be an early season for morels, and those that we are lucky enough to get, will come from the damp, mossy ground in the coastal forests of Oregon, Washington and Northern California. The dedicated professional foragers who harvest the highly cherished morels often show up in my kitchen, bringing burlap sacks filled with the wild mushrooms directly to us. Knowing the people who source your food is a part of the reviving American agricultural scene, a trend we all benefit from when we shop at our local green and farm markets.
We’ve come a long way since the days when I was a young chef working at The River Café in Brooklyn, known for its pioneering efforts to source and support local food. Although North America is home to about 10,000 different kinds of wild mushrooms, there was a time when we relied on European imports, rather than those that grow across the country. As the season continues to unfold, we will feature the other benefits of spring: those tender young greens, peppery watercress, and pencil thin asparagus that lets us know summer is on the way. In the kitchens of the Charlie Palmer Group, we’re all looking forward to cooking with the best this capricious season has to offer, and I hope you’ll join us to see what spring brings. — Charlie
Charlie Palmer Steak • The Four Seasons Hotel 3960 Las Vegas Blvd S. • 702.632.5120 • CharliePalmer.com