Sizzling ceps

One of the great improvements made over the last twenty years as far as restaurant supplies are concerned has been the ever-increasing availability of wild mushrooms. At the Old Compton Wine Bar in the 1970s the only people who offered wild mushrooms were either Poles or Italians, who picked them themselves and then went round the restaurants of Soho hawking their wares. Consequently wild mushrooms didn’t feature regularly on my menu and when I did offer them, the customers were none too keen on trying them. British people were more than a little suspicious of anything they believed might be a toadstool.

This wonderful dish can only be done when ceps are plentiful and relatively cheap, and this doesn’t happen too often, about every second or third year, when there is a bumper crop. Ceps have never been cultivated so prices are subject to availability; normally scarce and in demand they rank as a luxury, but when there is a glut, the pickers and suppliers have to unload them before they rot. A young Italian man (perhaps the offspring of one of the suppliers a quarter of a century before) occasionally arrives with an enormous hamper at reasonable prices. When this happens I buy as many as possible and dig this dish out of the back catalogue. Whenever the first portion of these mushrooms made their way noisily and aromatically to the table, the whole restaurant sat up and paid attention. I always follow them as far as the kitchen door to watch their effect.

This dish will work quite well with large field mushrooms, preferably slightly open. You will need a frying pan that can go in a hot oven (no plastic or wooden handles), or a metal gratin dish.

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Ingredients

  • 300 g fresh ceps, preferably large ones
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Garlic Butter

  • 100 g butter, at room temperature
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 handful parsley, coarsely chopped

Method

Make the garlic butter by combining all its ingredients in a food processor with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Process until just mixed. Remove from the processor bowl to a sheet of greaseproof paper or foil and form into a roll. Refrigerate until needed, when half of it should be sliced into 5 mm rounds. (The remaining butter has innumerable uses and freezes well.)

Preheat your oven to its maximum. Peel the cep stalks and, using a damp cloth, wipe the caps and gills. Cut them into 1 cm slices, place them in a bowl, add the oil then season well. Gently toss them to distribute the oil and seasoning thoroughly. Heat the frying pan on a high flame for several minutes, it must be smoking. Throw in the ceps and stir almost immediately. Ideally the mushrooms should be heaped in the pan so choose its size accordingly. Continue to cook fiercely on the flame for 1 minute, then put in the oven for 10 minutes more.

Serving

Place a heatproof mat on your dining table. Remove the pan from the oven and throw the pre-sliced garlic butter on the ceps. Give the pan a shake or stir (protecting your hands with oven gloves and a tea towel). This will allow the butter to seep through the mushrooms as it melts and hit the very hot metal of the pan, causing it to sizzle in a most satisfactory manner. Rush the dish to the table and eat as soon as you can without burning your mouth.

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