Glynn Purnell's forest-foraged favourites
Ella Walker finds out why Michelin-starred chef Glynn Purnell and expert forager James Wood are on a quest to get more people cooking with wild mushrooms
MUSHROOMS are so rarely the star – unless you're vegetarian and faced, yet again, with mushroom risotto as your only option on a restaurant menu.
However, chef Glynn Purnell is hoping to elevate the mushroom's humble profile to luxurious ingredient, having teamed up with Krug Champagne on an expert mushroom and champagne pairing guide, From Forest To Fork.
Wellies on, hand-warmers cracked and stuffed in our pockets, I'm spending the day with Glynn and expert fungi forager James Wood (Totally Wild UK), venturing out into Lickey Hills Country Park, Birmingham, with two wicker baskets in tow: one for edibles, the other for non-edible, but still interesting, specimens.
"Only four or five species of mushrooms are commercially grown in the UK," explains James, alluding to supermarket favourites like button, portobello and chestnut varieties, "but our woodlands are full of mushrooms we can pick and eat."
In fact, there are around 15,000 types of wild fungi to stumble upon, it's just about knowing where to look and what to pick.
:: Be wary of mushroom foraging, but not afraid
"There's a fear thing around mushrooms," James notes – but you can see why, he acknowledges, when mushrooms have different levels of toxicity, with some even proving fatal if eaten.
At one point during our expedition, we come across a hollowed-out trunk dotted with stubby, creamy-brown mushrooms, and James admits he cannot 100 per cent identify them.
"A brick tuft could easily be funeral bell," he says frankly. "I struggle to tell them apart."
There's a whole community of foragers who compare and share photos of mushrooms to help name and categorise them - but just wandering to your local park to collect fungi to fry up and pop on your toast isn't wise unless you have experience, or are with a foraging pro.
Foraging is on the rise though. "People are becoming more interested in where food comes from," says Glynn, 42, sagely.
We keep walking, nibbling on jelly ears found in the crevice of an elder branch (they look how they sound and can be used to thicken stews), and gnawing on turkey tails, which are frilly and fanned like scallop shells or, well, turkey tails – they don't break down, so are essentially a woodland substitute for chewing gum, except also full of immune-boosting nutrients.
We uncover oyster mushrooms with gills, glistening ink caps that stain your fingers jet black, and a broad flat conk that's white and spongy – you can draw on its surface with a twig, or, if you're very enterprising, conks can be used to brew beer and coffee.
:: Leave enough for the next person to pick
James' rule is to never pick more than 40 per cent of any mushrooms he discovers, so Glynn wryly announces, "Here are some we picked early", bringing out a tray of mixed mushrooms to add to our lunch haul.
Solihull-born, and owner of one Michelin-starred restaurant Purnell's in Birmingham, Glynn grills hangar steaks over an open fire, peppering the cooking process with important declarations: "Fridge-dry your meat for a day or two so your meat caramelises when it hits heat – bring it to room temperature first."
He jokingly points to his flat cap: "My next cookbook is gonna be called 'Cooking With Hats'", which is quickly followed by, "and Cooking With Goggles!'" as smoke from the fire catches his throat.
:: Marmite, mushrooms and champagne are a perfect match
He stirs through treacle-dark spoonful's of Marmite over the butter-sauteed mushrooms (don't worry, we made sure nothing from the 'non-edible' foraging basket got muddled in). "I wanted to do a riff on classic cheese and Marmite on toast – with mushrooms," he explains, noting that he won't eat the other classic, cheese and HP Sauce ("Not since the HP factory left Birmingham!").
Our forest lunch is a rustic version of a dish he created to pair with Krug in his restaurant, made up of Montgomery cheddar, delicate mushrooms, hints of Marmite and slivers of gold leaf. We eat the finished article (wittily named, 'It's a bit tight in here. There's not mush-room') with glasses of Krug's Grand Cuvee, at a dining table strung with mushrooms and moss suspended in miniature terrariums.
"The champagne tastes better in the woods – but this'll do, right?" says Glynn with a grin. He's not wrong.
RECIPE: GLYNN PURNELL'S FILLET OF BEEF WITH FORAGED MUSHROOMS
Sure, steak with chips and a watercress salad is great – but this version, with Marmite-infused mushrooms and a cheesy foam, from Michelin-starred chef Glynn Purnell, might just get you ditching your usual peppercorn sauce.
Sound tempting? Give it a go yourself...
1x hanger steak (about 500g-600g)
300g mixed mushrooms, chopped (foraged, or supermarket ones of your choice)
Knob of butter
A handful of parsely, chopped
300ml double cream
150g Montgomery cheddar
1tbsp dijon mustard
Salt and black pepper
1. Season the meat before searing for three to four minutes on each side over a mid-to-high heat – aim for a dark brown crust on the outside, with the meat still pink in the middle. Set aside to rest for around eight to 10 minutes.
2. Throw the butter, followed by the chopped mushrooms, into the same pan you cooked the beef in, sauteeing until soft.
3. Add the Marmite to the mushrooms, stirring through until thoroughly mixed in – a tablespoon of water can loosen the sauce if necessary. Just before they're ready, ad your chopped parsley and stir through.
4. Make the cheddar foam by heating the cream in a small pan over a medium heat, stir in the cheddar and mustard, season and whisk until smooth and frothy. Serve over the mushrooms, alongside the beef.