Grace is not my middle name. My movements have no flow or ease to them. I have stumbled over more doorsteps than I care to remember, I am intimately familiar with numerous sidewalks from slamming into them face first and once I ended up with my right leg stuck inside a Cuban sewage pipe. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I nearly launched myself into a pile a of bricks this evening. And I wasn’t, but it still came as a bit of a blow to the ego that the only thing between me and a bloody face was the sand that slowed my frantic stumble.
When I got home, I needed graceful food to even the balance. The gazpacho I was planning to have was bumped off the menu. It was chunky and destined to leave big red blotches on my white shirt. Instead, I decided on setas a la plancha. Setas a la plancha. Doesn’t that sound supremely graceful? And its English translation, “grilled oyster mushrooms”, is almost as charming.
What first attracted me to this recipe weeks ago is the technique used to cook the mushrooms. You toss them in seasoned oil and then fry them at high heat on one side only. I was intrigued. Would they taste differently if only one side got direct heat? But it took this long to make them because the recipe also intimidated me. It calls for expensive, high-quality sherry vinegar to dress the mushrooms after frying. My most expensive vinegar cost a few Euro’s in a French supermarket and it is fake balsamic vinegar. Probably not what they mean by “good quality Spanish vinegar”. When I got home this evening, I didn’t care anymore. I wanted a touch of elegance and if it had to come from a humble place, then so be it.
Good call. The mushrooms are easy to prepare, and ready in under fifteen minutes. They look elegant and taste great, even with the lowly French vinegar. A bit smoky from the high heat, intense from the garlic, lively from the vinegar and smooth with the olive oil. I am not planning on making a routine out of semi-embarrassing myself in front of my neighbors, but if I get a plate of these every time I do, I might learn to appreciate my lack of grace more.
Setas a la Plancha, Humbly
Adapted from Moro London, Sam and Sam Clark, via Het Parool
500 gr oyster mushrooms
salt and pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
2-4 tsp vinegar (sherry or red wine vinegar)
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped just before use
½ tsp dried oregano
Cut any thick stems from the mushrooms. Tear them in half if they have grown into a tube shape so most of the spore sides can touch the pan later. Mix three tbsp of oil with salt and pepper to taste and toss the mushrooms gently with the mixture.
Heat a thick-bottomed skillet until very hot. Add a single layer of mushrooms, spore side down. Softly press down the mushrooms and cook until the bottom is nicely browned. Transfer to a bowl and cook the rest of the mushrooms in the same way. When all the mushrooms have been fried, mix them with the rest of the oil, the vinegar, the garlic and the oregano. Serve hot or at room temperature.