August 13, 2012
champignons mijotés avec de la sauce d’huître
(mushrooms in oyster sauce)
The only reason that I used to shop at Costco, and its predecessor Price Club, was that my wife had free membership through her work. When she left that job in the 1994, we evaluated the cost of a membership against our modest needs as empty nesters and decided that it wasn’t for us. Occasionally, I have a chance to shop at Costco with a card‑carrying relative or friend, and I confirm that my original thinking is still valid.
One feature of shopping at a membership warehouse store, at least on weekends, is all the free tasting samples. With a little planning, I could probably make an ample meal just going from one sample stand to the next. But, since I don’t like most of what is being offered, it doesn’t even look appetizing, I elect to dine elsewhere. The same is true when I see samplers at supermarkets, not that I spend much time in supermarkets.
I would not want to spend my life as the host of one of these sample stations. The people working them are usually contracted by the product manufacturer and paid minimum wage, provided no benefits, limited to part‑time work, and given minimal equipment support. They may not even be trained on the product being sampled. I have taken the time to engage some these workers in conversation, and it seems that their job is barely a step above the people who stand on the edge of the street and wave signs announcing a store going out of business, a chance to sell your gold, or apartments for rent. (Come to think of it, when I’m demonstrating products at Sur la Table, my job isn’t much different.)
One place where I do partake more often in the samples is at my local 99 Ranch Market. 99 Ranch Market is a chain of about 35 Asian supermarkets located mostly on the west coast. For a pan‑Asian market, their range of products is quite good, and their prices are usually competitive. On Saturdays and Sundays, my local store has about half a dozen sample stations set up. It was at 99 Ranch where I first tasted Calpis and Yakuit, two drinks that I’ll never purchase. There has also been numerous tea blends packaged like soft drinks, instant noodles of many flavors and varieties, lots of dumplings, and bits of seaweed.
One day I was astonished to find an energetic, older woman hawking samples in the vegetable section far away from the other sample stations. Whereas the other station hosts would quietly offer you a sampling as you walked past, this vigorous lady was shouting in Chinese at the top of her lungs. I stopped to see what the offering was. It was two new types of cultivated mushrooms that have recently been introduced to my local markets. I had seen the mushrooms in their cellophane packaging for sale at another Asian supermarket a week or two earlier and was curious as to how they tasted. I tasted a small portion cup of the prepared mushrooms and was very pleasantly surprised.
I was so happy with the flavor that I decided to wait around and watch her prepare a new batch. I don’t know what she thought of this big white guy watching her, but in her broken English, she did her best to share her recipe with me. She seemed very proud of it. So I made a few notes and bought a package of one of the mushrooms.
The mushrooms I purchased were labeled as buna‑shimeji mushrooms, which I later learned were also called a brown beech mushroom. It is one of twenty or so species of oyster mushrooms. More recently I’ve noticed that my local produce store is selling pioppini mushrooms, another shimeji variety, loose. I’ll have to try those, too.
When I prepare the mushrooms as an amuse‑bouche, I strew a little very finely julienned red bell pepper over the top. Whether the pepper is cooked or raw is dependent on my mood the day I prepare it.
In the spirit of Chinese recipe titles, maybe I should call these Hawker Lady Mushrooms?
yellow onion, very thinly sliced pole‑to‑pole
1⁄2 of a 100‑g (31⁄2‑oz) bunch
buna‑shimeji (brown beech) mushrooms, cut from base and separated into individual mushrooms
1 thick, green stalk
from a green onion, thinly sliced
Chinese‑style oyster‑flavored sauce
1. Heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium‑high heat. Add the yellow onion, distribute it around the pan, and add a small pinch of salt. When the onion starts to soften, add the mushrooms and green onion slices. When everything is mixed well, splash a little wine in the pan to create some steam.
2. When the mushrooms start to soften, remove the pan from the heat, and add a dab or two of the oyster sauce. Stir the sauce into the mushrooms.
3. Divide the mushrooms between individual serving bowls.
Yield: 4 servings.