The shame of the secret ingredient

We all have one. It’s that elusive special something that makes your chili, or strawberry preserves, or banana bread, so very popular. And you never tell, but not because you’re afraid that everyone you know will be able to replicate your chili, or strawberry preserves, or banana bread and you won’t have any friends. It’s because you’re too embarrassed.

This morning, as we were driving to an estate sale that promised boating gear, Kevin was talking about Ken Lewis’ resignation from BofA and how it would be viewed by history. Mid-sentence, he said, “Did you see that?”

No, of course I hadn’t seen it. I’ve written about Kevin’s bionic peripheral vision before; I never see what he sees.

“It was a giant hen-of-the-wood!”

The last hen-of-the-wood he’d spotted from a moving car turned out to be a delicious black-staining polypore. This one turned out to be a cluster of honey mushrooms. At least, I’m pretty sure they were honey mushrooms. (If posts stop abruptly, remember that I died with my boots on.)

It was a good-sized clump, and once I’d de-stemmed them and removed any moth-eaten pieces, I had a pound of mushrooms. I sautéed them in preparation for making a soup. They were tasty, but a little bland.

This is often the problem with mushrooms, and I have a solution that I’ve been falling back on ever since I discovered Star porcini cubes: Star porcini cubes.  They’re the fungal equivalent of chicken or beef bouillon cubes, and I use them in soups, stews, sauces, and plain old rice. They taste like mushrooms, but they’re small, square, and individually wrapped.

It feels pretty ridiculous, I’ll admit, to go to the trouble of harvesting wild mushrooms, cleaning and cooking them, and making them into a wholesome wild mushroom soup, only to adulterate it with bouillon cubes.

I’d do it again, though. The excellence of Star porcini cubes outweighs the mortification of resorting to a salty, highly processed food additive.

If you’ve got a shameful secret, now’s the time to ‘fess up. And I don’t want to hear that you put anchovy paste in your beef stew to give it that intangible oomph – that’s just a creative use of a perfectly respectable ingredient. I want to hear that you use Marshmallow Fluff in your Key lime pie or Froot Loops in your apple crisp topping.

If you’re willing to confess your deepest, darkest, secrets, I’ll tell you what I put in my babaghanoush.

14 people are having a conversation about “The shame of the secret ingredient

  1. I’ve nothing to ‘fess, but I’m going to check back here to see if you’ve divulged a secret ingredient to baba ganoush. My only great secret to that dish is a long, hot, open fire with plenty of story-telling and maybe a couple songs. Smoky coals make truly magnificent baba. But secret ingredient besides eggplant, tahini, garlic, salt, lemon and generous dashes of cumin? I’m waiting with garlicky breath…

  2. Admit my secret shame, eh? I’m not adverse to using a can of cream of mushroom soup in a casserole instead of making homemade. I use dried porcini to give stock a lift, so a porcini bullion cube would be great! I would use more shortcuts if they were available in the UK.

    I have a great recipe for a strawberry pie that’s a can of frozen daquari mix stirred into a tub of cool whip. Very Paula Deen-esque.

    Marshmallow fluff never makes it into a recipe because I eat it out of the tub with a spoon. That’s my real secret shame…

  3. Today on an early morning walk with my sister and her dog, we passed a home on the Osterville-W Barnstable RD right near Bush Gardens. Among the well trimmed trees and bushes, I spied a stack of mushrooms that looked alot like the Honey ones you talk about. I thought of you and if I had my phone I would have taken a picture to send you. Anyway, hope you and Kevin can check it out.
    I think of you guys whenever I see mushrooms!!! What is that all about!!!

  4. Jen — Next time you come Stateside, I’ll fix you up with a stash of porcini cubes. And that Fluff habit is truly disgusting.

    Jane — Kevin saw the same ones! But he was travelling in the wrong direction. We’ll be checking ’em out tomorrow. Thanks for the tip.

  5. This reminds me of the bit in one of Tom Wolfe’s essays, I forget which, about the dewy Manhattanite whipping up “*her* spaghetti sauce (too much oregano).”

    But really I just want to know how Kevin thinks Ken Lewis’s resignation will be viewed by history.

  6. My shameful secret is that my “famous” shrimp curry is based almost completely on Campbell’s cream of shrimp soup. Whew! That was hard. The curry really is delish, It’s adapted from an old Peg Bracken recipe, (called, “Hurry Curry”). I use really good curry powder, (which I buy in London), and creme fraiche instead of the sour cream the recipe calls for. It’s easy, it’s good, people love it, and it holds well in a chafing dish for buffet but I have never shared the recipe because, well, you know…the pinkish slime at the base of it.

  7. Susan — That’s a good one. Because you came clean, I’m happy to tell you that you can get porcini cubes at Fairway.

  8. Aaron, Now that it looks as though Ken Lewis’s indictment is imminent I doubt… (sorry, thought I caught a glimpse of something.) I don’t think it matters what the likes of Bernanke, Gietner and Paulsen have to say in his defense. History will be viewing Ken Lewis through bars.

  9. OK, this is a true secret shame: you can make a really great, spicy, tangy stir-fry by starting with your usual sauce recipe (I use fish sauce, rice vinegar, truckloads of garlic and ginger, Mirin or other sweet rice wine, chili paste with garlic, and a little sugar), and then adding (gasp) Trader Joe’s barbecue sauce. Just don’t tell anyone.

  10. had such a lovely meeting this morning, great to sit and talk!

    no shameful secret, but a kick ass recipe for mushroom soup. i find this soup is best eaten with a glass of wine and a drawing pad or journal in your right hand:)

    and i haul those porcini stock boullions back from italy. i’m thrilled to find them here…. please share the deets.

    I take a big selection of mushrooms, particularly wild, destalk them, and then slice them into long, hearty strips. Sautee with shallots and the white of a good sized leek, butter or olive oil, and sweat them down. Add stock, (I use porcini and a deep chicken stock) a healthy portion of a white wine with a bite to it, and a bouquet garni. I simmer for about 45 minutes. Remove garni. You can add cream if you want, but I think its awesome just as it is. The blandness of some mushrooms is removed by leaving them big enough to have a bite to them. a friend who i gave the recipe to turns it into a french onion soup of sorts, adding bread and a healthy dose of cheese on top and broiling, so you could try that too.

  11. No shame at all in using a bit of pre-made kitchen helpers. My friend uses little cubes of dried cilantro. Don’t know where she finds it, but it’s the neatest thing.

    I either use porcini mushroom cream (comes in a tiny jar and has a bit of truffle added in) or Better Than Boullion Mushroom base, which is also a cream. The B than B is especially wonderful b/c you can use it in everyday recipes that simply call for mushrooms while the porcini sauce is a bit richer, though it tastes divine with some butter, cream, and fresh peas tossed with pasta.

Converstion is closed.