Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Asian Mushroom Hot Pot

It's that time of year -- all I want is soup, soup, and more soup.

The secret to a flavorful bowl of soup is to start with a really good stock.  So, I'm starting the year on a new foot, making my own stock.  Today, mushroom stock (or would this be a broth?).  Next on my list, experiment with homemade beef and/or chicken stock.  But for now, it's all about the mushroom hot pot.

On numerous occasions on those blustery, frigid nights in Chicago, I remember trekking to one of my favorite Chinatown restaurants for mushroom hot pot.  As reluctant as I was to step outside into the cold Chicago air (come to think of it, not really sure why, since I lived in an old, converted loft warehouse that had some extremely drafty windows, burr!!), a bubbling, mushroom hot pot always hit the spot -- with its assortment of (sometimes rather mysterious) dried Chinese mushrooms.  This version conjures up memories of that Chinatown staple; although, in addition to dried mushrooms, I incorporated a medley of fresh mushrooms. 

This hot pot has a pronounced depth of flavor.  You would think it's about the toppings, but it's really all about the mushroom stock.  The toppings are just an added bonus.  Star anise, clove, coriander, and cinnamon all add to the symphony of flavors.  Add a chile or two, if you like a little extra heat.  All ingredients that go into the hot pot should be readily available at your local grocery store and spice shop.  Once you gather all your ingredients, it's really quite simple.  After sauteing the onions and garlic for a few minutes, toasting the spices (optional, but recommended), you add the rest of your stock ingredients, grab a good book, and let it simmer for a good hour and a half, giving it a stir from time to time.  You can then use immediately, keep a few days in the fridge, or store in the freezer so you have some on hand when you're craving a big, warming bowl of mushroom soup.

Used an assortment of maitakes, beech, and enoki mushrooms, lightly pan sauted and added to the finished hotpot.  I like the enoki mushrooms, they take on the texture of noodles when added to the mix; but, by all means, use whatever mushrooms that are readily available and you enjoy. 

Lightly toasting the spices helps to enhance their flavor (but watch carefully, making sure they don't burn)...

All goes into the pot and simmers away...

You can make the stock ahead of time and refrigerate (or freeze) until ready to use...

Mushroom Stock
makes 2 hearty bowls
4 star anise
4 whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 dried hot chiles
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
10 cloves of garlic, smashed with side of knife
8 cups water
1 cup dried whole (~ 8) shiitake mushrooms
5 tablespoons (low sodium) tamari or soy sauce
1 teaspoon black (or red) peppercorn
handful of basil leaves and stems (preferably Thai basil, if you can find)
handful of cilantro stems
1 3-inch piece of kombu (optional)
1 lemongrass stalk, tough outer leaves removed (pounded gently (with a rolling pin) to release its oils

Toast the anise, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and coriander in a dry skillet over medium-low heat (shake the pan occasionally to prevent burning) until they just release their fragrance and slightly darken, about 2 minutes.  Add the chiles and cook another 15-20 seconds.  Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onions and saute 3-4 minutes until translucent.  Add the garlic and saute another minute.  Add the water, dried shaiitakes, tamari (or soy), black peppercorns, basil leaves and stems, cilantro stems, kombu, and lemongrass.  Simmer for 1 1/2 hours, giving a stir from time to time.  Strain.  Fish out the whole shiitakes.  When cool enough to handle, slice thinly.

If using the mushroom stock immediately, add the sliced shiitakes back into the stock.  Ladle into individual bowls and top with suggested garnishes.

If not using the mushroom stock right away, reserve the shiitakes in a separate container, as they tend to absorb quite a bit of liquid.  When ready to use, add the reserved shiitakes to the stock, and reheat. 

Suggested garnishes:  
These are just some suggested toppings; the possibilities are endlessUse as many or all if you so desire or substitute with your favorite toppings.  

*pan roasted assorted mushrooms (such as maitake, shiitake, enoki, beech)
cilantro leaves
basil leaves
mint leaves
mung bean sprouts (or other sprouts)
radish, thinly sliced
green onion, thinly sliced on a bias
cabbage, thinly sliced
baby bok choy
chiles, thinly sliced (such as Thai for extra heat or mild Fresno chiles)
Squeeze of lime

*highly recommend adding the roasted assorted mushrooms

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