Slow Fast Food Burger
This recipe is in three parts. Three fabulous ingredients that can be used in any number of ways on their own – puffball mushroom, pickled samphire, and pickled ginger – but when combined here make possibly the best (veggie) burger I have eaten. Yum, and again, yum. I have given shop-bought substitutes for the foraged ingredients which work nearly as well, but I gently encourage you to give the ‘wandering about the fields and the woods and the beach’ bit a go – as a seasoning for a finished dish, the sense of satisfaction doesn’t get better than this!
Giant Puffball Calvatia Gigantea
A true beauty. These mushrooms can grow to enormous sizes, and can sometimes be found in large numbers. I say sometimes as I have only ever found one – the one I cooked for this recipe. They are said to be common in the UK but, as with all wild mushrooms, they seem to ignore what is said about them and do as they please.
The giant puffball is to be found from mid-summer through to late autumn, often in pasture and fields. Its large size, dazzling white appearance and ball-like shape make it almost (almost!) impossible to confuse with anything else. Always cut your specimen in half before cooking – it should be pure white throughout. If it is yellowing or brown, it has started to spore and should not be eaten (leave it in a hedge somewhere to distribute its spores). If there is a discernible outline of another shape inside, it is the immature stage of a different fungus, and should not be eaten. If in doubt, don’t. Pick young, firm specimens, leave any older ones to do their thing in the hope there will be more next year. If you find a lot, pick only one or two as this will be enough to feed you for at least breakfast, lunch, and possibly dinner.
This mushroom has a pleasing soft texture, with a savoury, slightly sweet taste (with a hint of lemon). Peel some, slice it, fry it in butter, savour every mouthful. There will still be plenty left over for the recipe here.
The Politics and Etiquette of Foraging
There has been much in the media recently about the effects that picking wild mushrooms has on the ecology of the countryside they are to found in. One should always be mindful that they play a vital role (the most vital in a lot of respects) in keeping the world, including us, alive and healthy. John Wright of River Cottage fame has written extensively on the subject on his website www.wildfood.net , and it is a good idea to read some (or all) of this before waving your copy of the Mail or the Guardian at any foragers you may come across, but also before embarking on your own foraging expeditions.
Marsh Samphire Salicornia species
There are quite a few varieties of this salty little marvel, to be found from June to August on salt marshes and muddy estuaries. Take wellies, be aware of deep mud, be prepared for an aching back. To pick, just cut off the succulent tips with a pair of scissors, leaving the rest of the plant to regrow next year. Samphire does not keep all that well, so only pick what you will eat or, as I have done here, pickle it. It goes well with fish or lamb, and is great served up with charcuterie. It’s also a good excuse for a trip to the seaside and maybe an ice cream to reward your labours.
Giant Puffball Burger with Pickled Samphire, Ginger, and Miso Mayonnaise
The savoury mushroom paired with the sharp, salty, sweet pickles, and the pungent mayonnaise, is a deeply satisfying lunch or dinner. The pickling needs to be done well beforehand, but once you have these jars in your cupboard you’ll be dipping into them to accompany all manner of things.
For the samphire (makes 2 jam jars’ worth)
300g samphire (you can buy this in most good grocers this time of year)
3 baby leeks
80g demerara sugar
500ml white wine vinegar
3 bay leaves
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp turmeric
5 cloves garlic
Wash the samphire and remove any tough or woody stalks. Wash and finely slice the leeks, peel the garlic. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the samphire, leeks, and garlic. Simmer for around 4 minutes or until the samphire is tender. Refresh under cold water to arrest the cooking process.
In another pan, bring the vinegar, sugar, and spices to the boil, and simmer for 5 minutes to release and infuse the flavours. When the sugar has dissolved, set aside and leave to cool completely.
Drain the samphire, leeks, and garlic and pack tightly into sterilised jars (use non-reactive lids or the vinegar will do odd things to them). Pour over the cooled vinegar and spices, close tightly, and place in a dark cupboard. The pickled samphire will be ready in a couple of weeks. It will keep, unopened, in a cupboard for up to 3 months, or open in the fridge for 2 weeks.
For the ginger (makes 1 small jam jar)
You can buy pickled sushi ginger in most good grocers, but it is fun and interesting to make your own. I did not, however, forage the ginger, as there is no wild ginger in the UK, which is a shame.
2 thumb sized pieces of ginger (if your thumbs are tiny, borrow a friend’s)
60ml rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp salt
Buy your ingredients here at the following independent organic producers and box schemes – www.abelandcole.co.uk
Use a teaspoon to scrape away all the brown outside of the ginger (this method reduces the amount wasted dramatically). Then, using either a mandolin (watch your fingers!) or a vegetable peeler, cut the ginger into slivers as fine as you can get them. Pop the ginger in a bowl, sprinkle over the salt, and give the lot a little massage with your fingers, working the salt into the ginger as much as possible. Cover and set aside in the fridge for an hour or so.
Meanwhile, bring the vinegar and sugar to the boil in a saucepan, and simmer until all the sugar has dissolved. Take off the heat and allow to cool completely.
When cooled, take your ginger from the fridge, squeeze out any liquid that has exuded from it, and give it a quick rinse in cold water. Pat dry with clean kitchen towel, and pack into a sterilised jam jar with a non-reactive lid. Pour over the vinegar solution, making sure it is totally covered, and seal the jar. Again, leave in a dark cupboard to do its thing – the flavours will become more complex over time. It’s ready to use in two weeks, and will keep, unopened, for up to three months, or opened in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Make sushi, eat with the ginger, and quietly congratulate yourself.
For the miso mayonnaise
Simply combine 2 heaped tbsp of mayo (free range) and 1 tsp of miso paste (found in delis or grocers) in a bowl. If you want it a little stronger, or weaker, just play with the ratios. You can make your own mayo if you want (it is nicer), but after all that pickling I was too tired.
For the burger (makes 4)
1 large (30cm or thereabouts) puffball, peeled and cut into thick slices – there will be leftovers for breakfast (alternatively use 4 large portabello mushrooms –
200g plain flour
3 large free range organic eggs
100ml whole milk
400g breadcrumbs (shop-bought, or your own made with toasted and blitzed stale bread)
50g salted butter
A pinch each of salt and pepper
4 large burger buns (granary is best)
4 large ripe vine organic tomatoes, sliced
A few washed salad leaves (I used butteroak, which is crunchy, fresh and slightly sweet)
You can buy ingredients you weren’t able to forage from independent organic box schemes –
Whisk together the eggs and the milk. Season the flour with a little salt and pepper. Take one of the puffball slices and place in a bowl with the flour. Give it a good coating, then transfer to a bowl with the egg. Turn it a few times to make sure it thoroughly covered with the egg mix, then place in the breadcrumbs and, once again, give it good coating. I tend to do this twice for each slice to ensure a good, thick, crunchy layer.
Once all your slices of mushroom are covered with breadcrumbs, melt the butter in a large frying pan on a medium-high heat. When the butter begins to sizzle, add the puffball slices and cook for six to eight minutes, turning regularly, until lovely and golden. You may need to add more butter as they cook, but this is no bad thing.
Slice and toast the buns, spread both sides liberally with the miso mayonnaise, and assemble your burgers, adding the tomatoes, salad leaves, and as much or as little of the pickled samphire and ginger as you wish (bear in mind the samphire is quite salty).
Serve whilst still hot, with a glass of something cold, light, and fruity. I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I did, it really is quite something. Cheers.
Find me on Twitter: @lidson