Thursday, 2 October 2014

Beefsteak carpaccio

 With the driest September in the UK since records began nearly 100 years ago, it has not been a great year for mushrooms so far, not down here in Kent anyway. The Ceps have been scant and the Inkcaps illusive, but it is not all doom and gloom on the fungi front! This dish was made just under two weeks ago, and at the time there had been no heavy rainfall for over a fortnight. Naturally, there were very few mushrooms about, apart from the odd Brittlegill (Russula spp.) and Blusher (Amanita rubescens), the forest floor was almost bare. It seems, however, that bracket fungi do not require the same conditions to fruit as their ground-dwelling cousins, as we were finding Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica) and Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) in great profusion.

The specimen shown below was just one of many that we collected and experimented with in the kitchen (see my previous blog post here for more pictures). I've cooked with Beefsteak Fungus before, with varying degrees of success; slicing and frying is a no-no as the flesh becomes gelatinous and tasteless, but butter-boiling and using the sauce as a mock red wine gravy is delicious, recipe here. I employed a different approach this time and roasted a large piece of fresh Beefsteak, but again, the texture was gelatinous and watery and the taste acidic. If only it tasted as good as it looks!

I'm usually not a fan of raw mushroom, I find thinly sliced Cep (Boletus edulis) or tiny Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) caps to be very pleasant, but that's about it. However, I tried slicing the Beefsteak on the mandolin and I must I say I'm going to have to add it to that short list of mushrooms that are tasty when raw. In this case, better raw than when cooked, and thus the Beefsteak carpaccio was conceived.

Scrumped Conference pears, crab apples, and roasted beets

Like all carpaccios, this is a very simple recipe, with only minimal cooking required. Good ingredients served raw is what it's all about. As Beefsteak is a soft, acidic mushroom it needs the sweet richness from the cooked beets and crunch from the sliced fruit to balance it. The crab apples I used were sweet and had a low tannic acid content, so were quite palatable. I wouldn't recommend using high tannin crab apples in this dish, as they will only dry your mouth out. Serving this on a platter makes a great finger food starter for four people. Enjoy!


- Beefsteak Fungus
- 4 medium beetroots
- 2 crab apples
- 2 small pears
- Pickled unripe blackberries
- Baby salad leaves
- Olive oil 
- Salt

Start off by roasting the beets whole, skin on, in the oven at 160ÂșC until soft inside - about an hour. Meanwhile, slice the Beefsteak Fungus very finely, preferably on a mandolin, but by hand will suffice. It's important to have very thin slices of mushroom - if too thick the texture is overly gelatinous. Cut pickled unripe blackberries in half (find recipe below), and reserve some of the vinegar. To make the dressing, blend olive oil, unripe blackberry vinegar and a whole cooked beet, skin removed, adjust and season to taste. This will leave you with a red dressing and some beet solids. Although you can't see it in the picture, I actually served these beet solids as an accompanying pickle. Cut the remaining three cooked beets in to thin discs and slice the crab apples and pears on the mandolin. Now it's time to assemble; lay the slices of Beefsteak down first, adding the beets, crab apples, pears and halved unripe blackberries. Season with sea salt. Garnish with baby salad leaves, I used whatever was growing in the garden; mizuna, wintercress, purple kale, rocket and hairy bittercress. The pepperiness from the rocket, wintercress and hairy bittercress complimented the sweet and acidic flavours wonderfully. Generously drizzle over the beet and blackberry dressing. If you have any fresh horseradish root, which I didn't at the time, a teaspoon or so grated and scattered over the carpaccio would really finish it off well. 

Pickled unripe blackberry recipe:

Pick red, unripe blackberries, place in to a vacuum bag and add 10% of the weight in salt and fully seal. Refrigerate and leave for about 10 days. Drain off the liquid and add enough cider vinegar to cover, seal on full again and refrigerate. Use after a month or so, they will get better with age.

Beef-like appearance of the flesh, cut with and against the grain (R-L)

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