Our favorite chef, Ro Howe—owner of Barraud Caterers in New York City and a veteran contributor to Women’s Voices for Change—offers the fifth in her series of recipes that make odd (but happy) marriages. Part I was a pleasing blend of tomatoes and watermelon. Part 2 was a bold combination—grapefruit juice with avocado sorbet. Then came a pairing of the bright crispness of apple with the peppery back taste of celery. Next, red Thai shrimp bisque with sweet pea–cilantro ice cream. And now, a delightful pairing of chocolate, the prince of flavor, with the groundling shiitake.—ED.

 

There’s something musty, fusty, and fermented about any mushroom, and shiitake has it in clumps. They are, after all, fungi that slump into subterranean torpor soon after being plucked from the earth, unless protected from moisture. Shiitakes also have a great plastic structure that allows for maintaining shape, strength, and form when cooked. They are sturdy despite being water-storing sponges when fresh. When sliced and sautéed quickly over high heat, the cell structure breaks down and releases the water stored there, which evaporates, leaving the sliced shiitake toothsome and slightly chewy, with crunch at the edges. Toss the slices in some sugar and spice, and you get more than nice: You get surprising and delectable.

There aren’t many foods that are naturally brown—except for wild rice and some mushrooms that grow close to the ground. Brown food doesn’t inspire one to paroxysms of anything much except hesitant rejection. You know—wet earth, old blood, fermented autumn squelch on the ground. So along with its magnificence as a flavor, chocolate, as an anomalous ingredient, is recognized for its unexpected, dark, deep, voluptuousness, woven within its brown color and smothered earth flavor. (To illustrate my flavor profiling—chocolate is not light, white, and puckery, like lemon juice; or bright, green, and vegetal, like snow peas.) Chocolate is a conspiracy of subterfuge: It pretends simplicity and nether-end mundanity in its brown demeanor, and then declares majesty in profundity of texture, taste, and glamour.

So you might think it a mighty misfit to pair regal chocolate, the prince in pauper’s clothing, with the groundling mushroom and make it work. But work it does!

The shiitake, be it ever so humble, is the surprise of the show here. Treated as a fruit, sweetened and spiced, it lightens, brightens, and spikes the smooth coating of chocolate into a dance for the palate—the mouth’s brain.

 

ro howeChocolate Mousse with Spicy Cardamom Caramelized Shiitake and Pear Compote

Yield:  Six portions

Equipment: Three medium metal bowls, measuring cups and spoons, small saucepan for water bath, standing mixer or electrical hand mixer, wire whisk, rubber spatula, small sauté pan.

Ingredients for chocolate mousse:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped
3 tablespoons sweet butter
2 tablespoons strong coffee or water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons coffee or water

3 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ cup sugar

Ingredients for pear compote:
2 ripe pears in season
2 teaspoons finely minced peeled ginger
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons white wine

Ingredients for shiitake:
2 tablespoons clarified butter
6 medium shiitake
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch finely ground cardamom seeds
Pinch chili powder
2 tablespoons sugar

 

Method:

For the mousse, put chocolate and butter in metal bowl over gently simmering water. Stir in liquids.

In another heatproof bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and liquid, Whisk till thick and foamy.

Off heat, whisk into melted chocolate. Cool.

Using standing mixer, electric hand whisk, or wire whisk, whip egg whites to soft peak. Add cream of tartar. Gradually whisk in sugar. Beat till stiff peaks.

Using rubber spatula, fold egg whites into chocolate mixture in thirds.

Place in plastic container and chill.

For the compote, peel, core, and dice pears. Put in small pan with ginger, wine, and sugar. Cook over gentle heat till pears are a little tender and a syrup has formed.

For the shiitake, remove stems and slice shiitake thinly.

Combine salt, ground cardamom, chili powder, and sugar in medium-sized bowl. Add sliced shiitake and toss to cover.

Heat small sauté pan and add a little butter. Heat to shimmering and add a few shiitake slices. Sauté over high heat till caramelized. Repeat till all shiitake are cooked.

To serve, scoop the chocolate mousse in bowls or glasses. Garnish with pear compote and sprinkle a few slices of shiitake over all.

 

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