Learning from the masters
One of my food mentors was the late Peter Gravelius. Peter owned two restaurants in the Cape in the 80’ and early 1990’s. He and a handful of other local chefs like Etienne Bonthuys and Garth Stroebel introduced my palate to perfectly crafted classically made sauces. Peter allowed me into his kitchen where he taught me the finer points. He made me taste and adjust the seasoning to perfection. When I ate in his restaurants, particularly Truffles which offered fine dining and classical cooking, I was so often tempted to lick the plate!!! (Sorry Mom, you taught me cultured manners!)
In later years Peter taught master-classes to chefs at my cookery school. I assisted Peter and absorbed every word. What a privilege to learn from a true master.
We all know how to whip up a quick sauce, but occasionally I yearn for deeper flavours, so I haul out Peters recipes. I must admit that I have made a few changes. In the 80’s we did not have powerful domestic stick blenders and even the flask blenders were not nearly as good as we have today. Peter was also classically trained and sauces were strained through a fine sieve (tammy). The benefit of pureeing the mixture is that you do not lose any flavours components and achieve a wonderful texture.
Now, let’s look at the mushrooms.
I find that the common brown mushroom gives an excellent flavour. If you can use cep or porcini, the flavour is simply sublime. Thankfully these are now available dried or fresh from any reputable food store. Fresh porcini or cep season is short so they are scarce.
When we travel in Europe I cannot resist stocking up with the various dehydrated exotic fungi. As you know when other girls go shoe and handbag shopping I buy food!
When using dehydrated mushrooms always hydrate them with some warm water for at least 30 minutes. Never discard the water, use it as stock.
Woolies have a concentrated mushroom stock. A good tip when travelling is to slip a few packs of mushroom cubes into your bag, but watch the salt levels when using these as some tend to be salty.
Onions and garlic
I prefer using milder onions to compliment rather than mask the delicate mushroom flavours. White shallots are preferable, or red onion and the last choice would be the sharper white onion.
Thyme marries well with mushroom as does pepper. I like using pink peppercorns, but you may omit them. My Mom always added a splash of Worchestershire Sauce to mushrooms. It simply elevates the umami flavours. A small quantity of tomato paste also elevates the flavours and colour.
A bit of booze
The combination of brandy and sherry add sweetness and depth. Use a fruity white wine and avoid anything too acidic. I find chenin blanc or chardonnay work well.
Mushroom sauce must be rich and creamy. Taste as you add the cream as it must not dilute the delicate mushroom flavour. The amount of cream added varies depending on what mushrooms you use and to the degree that you have cooked the mushrooms.
A delicious sauce for pasta, steak (add more peppercorns if you like!), pork and poultry.