Taste of Autumn: Mushrooms wrapped in magnolia leaves
“Autumn is the season when we can explore a great variety of mushrooms. So at this time of year, chefs are racking their brains trying to find what will work best with them,” says Chef Sasaki as he takes out a shoulder roast of pork. With pork being at its best at this time of the year, it is indeed typical of Chef Sasaki to select this ingredient.
The pork is sliced and then coated with shiokoji. When pork is flame-grilled, it can get tough, but using shiokoji helps to keep the meat tender.
“Even in France, mushrooms become a popular topic of conversation in autumn, so we can truly say that mushrooms are an essential autumn ingredient. And the fragrance of wild mushrooms is just so different to that of cultivated ones,” says Chef Sasaki, speaking of the importance of using natural ingredients. It is certainly true that nowadays the varieties of wild mushrooms are getting less, and this makes them a very precious commodity.
The shiokoji is removed from the pork and it is now ready to cook. Chef Sasaki places the pork directly onto pieces of charcoal laid on top of the brazier, the high heat instantly sears the surface of the pork. The pork gets slightly charred on the portions that directly touch the charcoal, which is a key factor in its overall taste. Chef Sasaki is particularly skilled in his handling of charcoal.
Generally the charcoal is burned inside the brazier, but in this instance, it is placed directly on top or above the fire itself, such that the fire flares through to the upper side of the ingredients. Because there is a space between the grill and the ingredients, the temperature of the charcoal can be better controlled, and the smoky fragrance of the charcoal is fully utilized.
And finally, the finishing touches are added. Inside a large magnolia leaf, the various kinds of mushroom are carefully arranged. The lightly grilled pork is then placed on top of the mushrooms, with the chestnuts and gingo nuts arranged around it. Then the whole lot is wrapped up in the leaf and put in the oven.
Voila! Mushrooms baked in magnolia leaves.
The moment the leaf is opened the fragrance of autumn rises up from those mushrooms. The brown colorings are also reminiscent of the image of mountain ranges in autumn. A further flavoring is added with a light miso sauce.
Pork, with its somewhat chewy texture and sweetness, has an outstanding flavor. Of course, eating the mushrooms alone would be great, but the synergy created by matching them with the pork provides a much deeper sense of autumn. So getting back to the original question of how best to eat mushrooms, Chef Sasaki’s answer is superbly embodied in just one dish.
Translated by Cate Pearce from Gion Sasaki