At New York fine-dining spot Per Se, chef Thomas Keller’s showstopping classic dishes tend to get all the attention. But the tasting menus here aren’t all caviar and pearls; simple, traditional French techniques undergird much of the magic. An example is mushrooms served à la grecque, a light pickling preparation that harks back to the hors d’oeuvres carts of formal midcentury dining rooms. Today at Per Se, the preparation appears often, either tucked in as a side dish with items like grilled fish, or as a course in and of itself, with grilled bread alongside.
To make your own Per Se–inspired mushroom toast, boil a mixture of vinegar, white wine and spices, then pour it over sautéed mushrooms. Next, set aside the marinating mushrooms and wait, preferably for 24 hours—which is perhaps the most difficult part of the whole exercise. But it’s worth it. “To nail it, you want to do this ahead of time so you really infuse the vinaigrette into the mushrooms,” says Corey Chow, executive chef of Per Se, which holds a Wine Spectator Grand Award for its wine list. You can pass some of the time making his recipe for scallion oil, which is great drizzled on the finished toast—or on just about anything.
To maintain the precise herbaceous notes in the marinade—seasoned with parsley stems, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, star anise and peppercorns—Chow recommends turning off the heat as soon as the mixture has reached a boil so the liquid is gently infused with the fresh, light aromatics, rather than continuing to cook, which “dumbs down the flavor,” he explains. It’s not unlike extraction in winemaking. “Once [the marinade] comes up to 212 degrees, that activates all the aromatics to release their oils and flavor, and then it rests. If you boil it, it’s just going, going, going and you’re extracting, extracting—you’re taking almost too much flavor.”
Chow’s kitchen is fastidiously low-waste, and the bare parsley stems in the marinade are a way to utilize a part of the herb that typically gets tossed. But if you haven’t already saved headless stems in your fridge, you can use the leaves on your parsley as a finishing garnish on the toast.
At Per Se, “We can do this dish with beautiful, expensive bluefoot mushrooms from France, matsutake mushrooms from Oregon, chanterelles, morels,” Chow says. “But for the home cook, you can just get whatever’s around in the market; you can use button mushrooms, you can use hen of the woods, which are a little bit cheaper, trumpet royales that are more common.”
Buy what looks good, knowing that larger specimens may need to be chopped into bite-size chunks for toast, while smaller mushrooms can be left whole. “It depends on what you find at the market,” Chow says. “That’s what’s fun about nature: It changes every single time.”
Pairing Tip: Why Aged White Rioja Works with This Dish
For more tips on how to approach pairing this dish with wine, recommended bottlings and notes on chef Corey Chow’s inspiration, read the companion article, "A Perfect Match: Mushroom Toast With an Aged White," in the Oct. 31, 2018, issue, via our online archives or by ordering a digital edition (Zinio or Google Play) or a back issue of the print magazine. For even more wine pairing options, WineSpectator.com members can find other recently rated white Riojas in our Wine Ratings Search.
Forest Mushroom Toast with Scallion Oil
For the marinade:
- 2 1/2 cups Champagne vinegar
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 scant cup white wine
- 1/3 cup parsley stems
- 1 tablespoon sliced garlic
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fennel seeds
- 2 1/2 tablespoons Telicherry or black peppercorns
- 1/4 cup coriander seeds
- 3 star anise pods
- 4 tablespoons mustard seed or grainy mustard
For the mushrooms:
- Canola oil, for coating pan
- 1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms, such as hen of the woods, chanterelle and trumpet royale, in small clusters and pieces
- Salt, to taste
For the scallion oil:
- 1 rounded cup thinly sliced scallions
- 3/4 cup baby spinach
- 1 1/2 cups canola oil
- 1 rounded teaspoon salt
For the radishes:
- Six 1/2-inch-thick slices country bread, halved
- Olive oil, for brushing bread
- Salt, for sprinkling on bread
- Parsley leaves, if desired
1. In a large pot, combine vinegar, sugar, wine and 1 1/4 cups water. Bring to a boil, then add parsley stems, garlic, bay leaves, fennel seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds, star anise and mustard. Turn off the heat and let cool slightly.
2. Heat a saucepan over medium and coat with canola oil. Add the mushrooms and lightly sauté until fragrant and lightly browned. Season with salt to taste. Transfer to paper towels to drain oil. Pour marinade into a large bowl through a strainer. Discard solids or reserve for another pickling project. Submerge mushrooms in marinade and let sit for at least 1 hour, preferably marinating them overnight, transferring to the refrigerator when the liquid has cooled to room temperature. Drain mushrooms and transfer to a serving bowl. Discard marinade or reserve for pickling other items.
3. In a blender or food processor, combine scallions, spinach, 1 1/2 cups canola oil and 1 rounded teaspoon salt. Blend on high for 5 minutes until bright green and slightly grainy. If oil becomes hot, quickly transfer to a mixing bowl set over a bowl filled with ice to cool it down.
4. Heat a saucepan over medium and coat with olive oil. Add radishes and quickly sauté until slightly softened. Sprinkle with salt and lemon juice to taste. The lemon juice will brighten the radishes and provide some acid.
5. Preheat a broiler. Brush bread with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Broil bread until toasted, flipping with tongs, about 1 minute per side.
6. Add radishes to the bowl of mushrooms, stirring to combine. Drizzle mixture with scallion oil and garnish with parsley leaves, if desired. Arrange toast on the side. Serves 6 as an appetizer.