My first week at Ballymaloe, this recipe seemed like a revelation in simplicity. No step is harder than thinly slicing some button mushrooms and sweating down a little diced onion. But, if done incorrectly or hastily, the sauce can quickly become a sludge of drawn-out mushroom juices rather than a wonderful creamy addition to chicken, pasta, potatoes, casseroles, or really anything else. So at Ballymaloe we learned how to do it right: the Ballymaloe Way. It set the tone for this whole experience for me. Use seasonal, local ingredients, honor each step no matter how small or low-profile it may seem, and you’ll wind up with something delicious in front of you.
Sweat the onions
Sounds easy enough, right? Yes! But by adding one little step that Ballymaloe teachers do every time they want to sweat onions without developing any color while still cooking them fully to a beautiful, glossy translucence, it becomes a thing of beauty. Maybe that sounds a tad extreme given we’re talking about onions, but if you’re like me at all then you understand!
First you melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan until it foams, then add in your diced onion. Over your onions, put a circular-shaped piece of parchment paper directly onto your onions, then put the lid on. Cook on gentle heat for 5-10 minutes, or until translucent and fully cooked. Parchment used this way is called a “cartouche.” It helps create a little vacuum of steam even more so than just putting the lid on the saucepan. It’s typically used when simmering or reducing to prevent too much liquid from evaporating or a scummy skin forming on the top of whatever you’re cooking, but it works wonders with sweating onion.
Fry up the mushrooms
In the mean time, put your thinly sliced mushrooms into a hot frying pan with a little butter. (The Irish always use salted butter, by the way, so consider that when adding your seasoning). Generally, to get deep flavor out of a vegetable, you might think low and slow is the way. I’ve since learned that mushrooms are not one of those vegetables. They like to be cooked quickly and on a high heat. If you try and go the low and slow route, they’ll lose all their juices and become a soggy mess rather than developing a delicious browned exterior and a rich flavor. If you make this mistake, fear not. Darina Allen told us that if you make this mistake, don’t toss them out. If left cooking long enough, the mushrooms will reabsorb their juices and develop a wonderful nutty flavor. Season with a bit of salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
Side note: Don’t crowd the pan with mushrooms or they’ll steam rather than brown. Do them in batches if you need to.
Make the sauce
Add the mushrooms into the saucepan with the onions, then add the cream. Let it bubble for a few minutes, allowing the cream to thicken up a bit. If it still seams runnier than you’d like, add a small amount of roux to the sauce — enough so that the sauce lightly coats the back of a spoon. Once you’re happy with the consistency, add in some chopped parsley.
Et voila! Put on your favorite cooked pasta, fill a crepe with it, or use it to enrich a stew.
We had it on penne one of our first days of watching demonstrations and were all shocked by how delicious this simple mushroom sauce was and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. With fall around the corner, everyone needs to know about this stick-to-your-ribs comfort food.
from Ballymaloe Cookery School
2 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup onion, finely diced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup cream
2 teaspoons freshly-chopped parsley
1 tablespoon freshly-chopped chives (optional)
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper