Hang out long enough with David West, a.k.a. "the mushroom man" of Clearwater Farms, and eventually a farmers market customer is bound to ask the "Big O" question. "Well, shiitakes are grown on oak blocks, so until someone decides to make certified organic oak trees, no, these are not organic," says West, who has a talent for both growing fungi and comedic candor.
"And those morels over there are wild," West continues, pointing at a box of mushrooms at his Santa Monica Farmers Market stand. "I haven't seen a certified organic forest yet, either." Ha. Neither have we.
Get some handy mushroom tips from West, and his chanterelle-corn risotto recipe (and soliloquy), after the jump.
Breaking our longstanding mushroom assumptions is one of West's many, and always honest, charms. Never rinse mushrooms, right? "Don't be afraid to give these a quick rinse, but just 2 or 3 seconds so they don't absorb any water," he tells a customer picking up a half pound of small chanterelles. "In the summer, the ground is still very dry, so chanterelles are usually a little dustier than they are in the fall."
On size: "People also come [to the market] and want a certain size of mushroom every time, but it's not how it works," says West. "Like with shiitakes, the size has to do with the wood. We're on a lot of new wood right now, so it has more nutrients and the mushrooms grow faster and get pretty big. When you're down to the 3rd or 4th [growing cycle], you get smaller mushrooms."
On sautéing: "I don't like to sear mushrooms at high heat like you see a lot of people do," says West. "Olive oil is good -- or grapeseed oil, it doesn't smoke as easily," he suggests. "You don't want to burn the mushrooms. I add a little garlic, fresh garlic [from the farmer's market] this time of year, leeks are also good. Low and slow is what you want, cook them for only ten minutes or so."
On his chanterelle and corn risotto recipe: "It's basically the one you see at so many restaurants [around town] today," he says, handing over a card printed with the recipe. "I've been making it for 15 years, telling people about it. And I have these chefs come up and tell me, 'Hey, that's our recipe from the restaurant!' And I tell them, 'Really? You're restaurant was around 15 years ago?'"
It probably wouldn't be terribly shocking if at this point we told you that West's recipe is printed in screaming caps. Nor were we surprised that neither his nor the farm's name are printed anywhere on the recipe card. Because despite the opinionated fungi banter, West is a great morel sort of guy who really just wants us all to sit down to a memorable mushroom-inspired dinner.
Chanterelle Corn Risotto
From: David West of Clearwater Farms
Note: Per West: "I like to add fresh herbs to this instead of cheese, like chives, thyme, sage... it's also great with seafood, like scallops. Bon appétit."
Makes: 4 to 6 as a side dish
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
8 ounces chanterelles
2 cups fresh corn (about 2 large cobs)
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 to 6 cups warm stock of your choice such as chicken or vegetable
1. Chop half the chanties finely. Add them to the onions and half of the corn.
2. Sauté the vegetables in a little olive oil until soft. Add the rice and sauté for 2 more minutes.
3. Start adding the stock slowly, about 1 cup at a time, and cook until it is absorbed. Continue to add more stock.
4. Meanwhile, slice the remaining mushrooms lengthwise and add them the rice the last 5 to 7 minutes of cooking. Add the corn kernels the final minute.
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Clearwater Farms mushrooms are available at the Arizona Avenue Santa Monica markets (Wednesday, Saturday) and Sunday Hollywood markets.
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